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Some colleges are starting to cut tuition as coronavirus keeps students off campus

But many colleges still aren’t cutting tuition, even as some classes will be online and campus life will be restricted because of the coronavirus.

Students walk through campus at Rowan University in Glassboro before the pandemic hit. Rowan is one of several colleges in the region offering students a tuition cut for the fall.
Students walk through campus at Rowan University in Glassboro before the pandemic hit. Rowan is one of several colleges in the region offering students a tuition cut for the fall.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Some colleges in the region are starting to acknowledge that taking classes online isn’t quite the same as being on campus — and they’re cutting tuition because of it.

West Chester University, which announced this month that all instruction in the fall will be remote, will lower tuition by 11%, or $569 on average, for a full-time, in-state undergraduate student. The state university also will allow undergraduates to take six free credits in the winter or summer. Princeton University, where most academic instruction will remain online, has announced a 10% tuition cut for the year.

And Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., where all instruction will be online, is giving students who agree to take classes at home and away from campus a 10% tuition reduction — a savings of more than $2,700 for those who pay full price or close to it.

“We really just felt that it was fair to acknowledge that there was a significant difference between the experience of studying from home and the experience of living on campus,” Lafayette president Alison Byerly said.

Even some schools that are still planning to offer most classes in person, including Rowan University in Glassboro, are offering cuts, in recognition of the financial struggle families face. Rowan said last week that it would cut tuition and fees by 10% for the full academic year, saving students $1,438.

Many colleges aren’t cutting tuition, even as some classes will be online and campus life will be restricted because of the coronavirus. Some parents and students have called for discounts, while lawsuits are demanding it and recent opinion polls have found many expect it.

“It’s expensive and infuriating,” said the parent of one Drexel University graduate student, who was told tuition and fees would remain at more than $30,000 despite remote instruction. “They won’t budge.”

Drexel spokesperson Niki Gianakaris said most undergraduates pay a discounted price and don’t pay tuition when they are in their co-op job placements. Most students do three different six-month co-ops over a five-year period and are paid an average of $18,720. Gianakaris said.

» READ MORE: Drexel co-ops face their greatest challenge: Finding work for students during coronavirus

The coronavirus is a conundrum for colleges, which say faculty are still working hard — in many cases harder — to prepare online or hybrid courses, and that the cost of offering education hasn’t changed. It also comes as many schools are facing massive budget shortfalls from the loss of room and board revenue and increasing costs for testing and cleaning.

Colleges have defended their decisions to not offer tuition discounts, noting they have invested in improving hybrid courses and increased financial aid for students.

“Online courses have been part of our academic programs and offerings for many years, and we have maintained consistency in the tuition rates for in-person, online, and hybrid model courses,” said Gail Benner, a spokesperson for St. Joseph’s University, which is keeping a tuition increase it set before the pandemic.

Some schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, and Drexel, also are sticking to previously planned tuition increases. At Penn, tuition will rise 3.9% to $53,166.

“Whether delivered online or in-person, the university continues to provide a meaningful and high-quality education to all our students,” Penn spokesperson Ron Ozio said.

Other colleges, including Temple, Rutgers, Lehigh, Swarthmore, and Pennsylvania State University, have instituted tuition freezes or canceled planned increases. Some schools are providing a discount on campus or student fees. Rutgers’ 15% discount on its campus fees for the fall amounts to at least a $300 reduction for full-time undergraduates, the school said.

“There’s no real easy answer,” said Quinn Litsinger, a rising junior and president of Temple’s Student Government Association. He understands students feeling they deserve a tuition break, but also would not like to see faculty or staff furloughed as a result of a tuition cut.

» READ MORE: Penn State is about to turn Centre County into a massive coronavirus research project

Temple and Drexel are among more than 100 colleges nationwide facing lawsuits because they didn’t cut tuition last spring when the early days of the pandemic forced instruction online. Complainants argue the quality is not the same.

Temple asked in a court filing this month that a lawsuit against it be dismissed, asserting there’s no contract stating the university had to provide classes in person, and noting that government regulations forced the campus to stop in-person instruction.

Steve Newman, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, the faculty union, said faculty want to teach in person when it is safe. But he defended the quality of classes taught remotely and said all of the advising and support systems for students also remain intact.

“People who think online teaching is easier have never done it or they aren’t doing it well,” Newman said.

Temple plans a mix of online and in-person classes.

Lafayette, a campus of about 2,600 students, announced last week that all of its instruction would be conducted remotely, reversing an earlier decision. The college cited the spread of the virus and lack of available testing. The school announced its fall tuition break at the same time.

Byerly, the president, emphasized that the reduction is not because learning will be online. Professors will continue to deliver a high quality education, she said. It’s really about a student not having access to campus facilities, she said, such as the library and recreation center.

Students who live on campus or in private housing near campus will continue to pay the full amount, $27,256, not counting any financial aid they may receive, because they will live close enough to continue to use campus facilities, she said.

The decision comes even as Lafayette is forecasting a $40 million to $60 million budget shortfall this fiscal year and has instituted cost-cutting measures, including suspending contributions to retirement plans and cutting pay for anyone earning more than $37,500.

Reaction to the reduction has been mixed, Byerly said.

“Some people have expressed appreciation,” she said, “and others have said, ‘Why is it not more?‘ ”