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Students Think Online Classes Should Mean Lower Tuition

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In the 2019-2020 school year, in-state tuition costs an average of $10,440 per year at a public college. With about 10 grand on the table for the upcoming academic year, there's a pressing question for college students: Should tuition rates change if classes go completely online because of the coronavirus crisis?

To find out what college students thought, we surveyed more than 17,000 students attending higher education institutions across the U.S. and Canada. Here's what they said.

Should Tuition Change If College Classes Are Online?

Going online has created new challenges for schools, faculty members and students. Needless to say, the rapid change to eLearning did not go well this spring, and 75 percent of college students were unhappy with the quality of online classes.

Even though schools have had months to plan for the fall semester, the prospect of online courses has caused 35 percent of college students to consider withdrawing from school.

As one Cal Poly student said, "I’m not paying full price for YouTube university."

To get a broad understanding of the relationship between tuition and class format, we surveyed college students across the U.S. and Canada. The overwhelming majority thought if there is no in-person instruction, tuition discounts should be implemented.

If Colleges Go Completely Online this Fall, Should Tuition Change

If Colleges Go Completely Online this Fall, How Should Tuition Change? (U.S.)

  • Lowered: 93.2%
  • Customizable (Opt out of fees for unavailable facilities): 6.3%
  • No changes: 0.4%
  • Increased: 0.1%
If Colleges Go Completely Online this Fall, Should Tuition Change

If Colleges Go Completely Online this Fall, Should Tuition Change? (Canada)

  • Lowered: 88.0%
  • Customizable (Opt out of fees for unavailable facilities): 11.1%
  • No changes: 0.8%
  • Increased: 0.1%

Who Participated in the Survey?

Our research sampled students attending colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. All participants responded during the week of June 29th and are entering their freshman year.

In the U.S., polling included 13,606 students who are attending the following 101 schools:

  • Adelphi University
  • Alvernia University
  • American University
  • Anderson University
  • Appalachian State University (App State)
  • Arizona State University (ASU)
  • Ashland University
  • Auburn University
  • Ave Maria University
  • Babson College
  • Ball State University
  • Baylor University
  • Belmont University
  • Bentley University
  • Binghamton University
  • Biola University
  • Boise State University
  • Boston College (BC)
  • Boston University (BU)
  • Bowling Green State University (BGSU)
  • Brandeis University
  • Bridgewater State University
  • Brown University
  • Bryant University
  • Bucknell University
  • Buffalo State College
  • Butler University
  • Cal Poly-Pomona
  • Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo
  • California State University-Fullerton
  • California State University-Long Beach
  • California State University-Northridge
  • Carroll University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Chapman University
  • Charleston Southern University
  • Chatham University
  • Christopher Newport University
  • Clemson University
  • Coastal Carolina University
  • College of Charleston
  • Colorado State University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Drexel University
  • Duke university
  • East Carolina University (ECU)
  • East Stroudsburg University
  • Eastern Connecticut State University
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Emerson College
  • Framingham State University
  • Frostburg State University
  • George Mason University
  • Georgia State University
  • Hofstra University
  • Illinois State University
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)
  • Kean University
  • Lesley University
  • Marist College
  • Marywood University
  • Missouri State University
  • Pace University
  • Penn State-Behrend
  • Quinnipiac University
  • Rockhurst University
  • Sacred Heart University
  • Saint Peter's University
  • San Diego State University (SDSU)
  • Santa Clara University
  • Shippensburg University
  • Skidmore College
  • Stony Brook University
  • SUNY-Downstate Medical Center
  • SUNY-Geneseo
  • SUNY-Plattsburgh
  • Tarleton State University
  • Temple University
  • The College at Brockport
  • The University of Tulsa
  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UCLA
  • UMass Amherst
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Akron
  • University of Dayton
  • University of Houston
  • University of Illinois-Chicago
  • University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Las Vegas
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of North Florida
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Rhode Island
  • University of South Carolina
  • University of Washington
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • West Chester University
  • Winona State University

In Canada, polling included 3,696 students who are attending the following 25 schools:

  • Algonquin College
  • Brock University
  • Carleton University
  • George Brown College
  • Georgian College
  • Humber College
  • McGill University
  • McMaster University
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Queen's University
  • Thompson Rivers University
  • Trent University
  • University of Alberta
  • University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Guelph
  • University of Manitoba
  • University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • University of Ottawa
  • University of Toronto (St. George)
  • University of Toronto (UTM)
  • University of Toronto (UTSC)
  • University of Victoria
  • University of Waterloo
  • University of Western Ontario

Why Do Students Think Class Format Should Affect Tuition Rates?

For many college students, the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life and how they learn. Instead of thriving college campuses with lively classroom debates, there were Zoom lectures and final exams completed from a bedroom. 

Between 88 and 93 percent of college students think tuition should be lowered if classes move online. Reducing tuition is a response to several factors. 

First, there are changes to the actual instruction. Many college students report that online education can make it difficult to retain information and grades can suffer. Online learning also doesn't allow for access to brick-and-mortar facilities such as science labs, libraries, tech equipment or research tools. 

Plus social distancing limits the type of learning immersion and networking that's typically associated with the college experience. After all, companies like Warby Parker, Snapchat and Google were all started by friends who met in college.

One UMass Amherst student recently said: "A large part of why I go to college is about the college experience. I do not see why I would pay $15k to go to UMass Amherst when I can just take a semester off and take classes at my local community college online for much cheaper."

What Do Other Students Think About Online Classes And College Costs?

The second most popular option among college students is that tuition should be customizable during COVID-19. If students aren't able to access facilities like the campus gym, library or equipment labs, they shouldn't be paying for them.

This option would change the college cost model to an à la carte solution, rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet of campus life. 

There could be significant implications for accounting, financial aid and student loans. However, the lack of facilities is the reason that pre-pandemic online degree programs typically cost less than in-person ones. 

A small number of students said that tuition should not change if college classes are online. In this perspective, full-tuition rates are based on the school, its education and the field of study. A transition to online school is simply a change in how classes are delivered, and it shouldn't affect the cost. 

A few students also responded that tuition could increase. These students say that the lack of people on campus could have the net effect of increased tuition. For example, if a percentage of students take a gap year during COVID-19, a school may need to raise the rates for the remaining students to prevent a budget shortfall. Students attending small private colleges are most likely to face this outcome if other income sources cannot replace tuition revenue. 

Find out how the online study resources available on OneClass can help you get a great GPA, even during a pandemic.

image attribution: Drobot Dean -


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