Jun 25, 2020 - Economy

Exclusive: College students want tuition discount for online classes

Illustration of a laptop open to an online class with a giant sticker that reads 50% off sale on its screen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More than 90% of college students say they should pay less in tuition if schools are only offering online classes, per a College Pulse survey of 5,000 full-time undergraduate college students across 215 universities.

Why it matters: Higher education institutions across the country are planning to rely heavily on remote learning this fall as the nation continues to grapple with COVID-19.

  • "Students are smart enough to know that if they are getting courses online, the cost to offer those courses should go down — they want a better deal for their dollar," said Ryan Stowers, executive director of the Charles Koch Foundation, which commissioned the survey.

Where it stands: Overall, students gave positive reviews to their colleges' response to the coronavirus outbreak, with close to seven in 10 students saying their schools did an excellent or good job.

  • Yes, but: Most students were more negative about how well their professors adapted to online learning, with 54% of students saying faculty did not handle the transition well.

By the numbers: Students overwhelmingly said online classes are less effective than in-person classes in helping students develop social skills (89%) and critical thinking skills (62%).

  • 73% say online learning is less effective than in-person instruction in helping students develop specific skills — even though that's an area where online classes are expected to excel.
  • Distance learning is also seen as negatively disrupting other aspects of campus life, such as participating in extracurricular activities (69%), developing close friendships (62%), and feeling like they are part of a larger campus community (55%).

The other side: There is room for optimism. The majority of students (63%) say online learning could be improved with better technology platforms. Those with more experience taking online courses have better views of them than students who have not taken them.

  • Interestingly, while most students (55%) say improving distance learning should be a high priority for colleges, it's not seen as the highest priority.
  • Instead, students want their colleges to find new ways to help them secure internship and job opportunities; eliminate the need to buy expensive textbooks; provide better mentorship opportunities; and provide more resources to help choose majors and classes.

Between the lines: Generally, students are more anxious about the value of the credential they receive from an institution than their overall college experience during the pandemic. This suggests a heightened concern about finding jobs after graduation and having the skills and critical thinking abilities that employers want.

  • "When you put all these factors together, the most pressing questions for students are, am I going to be able to get a job or afford textbooks?" said College Pulse co-founder Terren Klein. "In other words, does this even make sense financially for me?"

The bottom line: Students and parents paying tuition bills have extra leverage right now as they weigh what schools are worth paying for, or if it's even worth returning to college at all until the pandemic is under control.

  • That means higher education leaders have to innovate quickly, experiment with different hybrid approaches and meet students' preferences and expectations.

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