The parent of a student attending George Washington University in the nation’s capital — where tuition for a single semester ranges between $25,875 and $29,275 — has filed a lawsuit against the school claiming the online education his daughter is getting is not worth what is being paid to the school.
The parent, Mark Shaffer of Pennsylvania, is not alone in feeling this way. His lawsuit filed last week is the latest in a growing class of litigation against colleges and universities over their spring tuition rates, The Washington Post reported.
“It foreshadows a potentially contentious fall as tuition-hungry schools and families battle over whether students should pay full price for less than a full college experience,” wrote Post reporter Lauren Lumpkin.
Indeed it does. And the concern should continue well beyond the fall.
Online learning is nothing new. It’s been an alternative for place-bound students, as well as many others who don’t fit the traditional student mold, for several years. In the past decade many colleges have been pushing online learning for students on campus.
Nevertheless, the idea of an on-campus education, where students attend classes together and are involved in a variety of activities, remains the preference of most. It is what many students (and parents) are paying for — whether at a small college or a big university. The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the closing of college campuses nationwide, has spurred the widespread use of online learning.
In the lawsuit, Shaffer alleges his daughter’s classes have not been as rigorous since the university moved classes online. The lawsuit claims the closures have stripped students of the valuable experiences that typically make those prices worthwhile.
A spokeswoman for George Washington contends that, given the emergency situation, “Our faculty have worked hard to provide our students with a quality academic experience by distance.”
This unavoidable emergency fix for the spring semester makes sense. Even keeping the usual tuition in place, given that a great many of colleges’ expenses are static at this point in time regardless of the learning method, is understandable.
But moving forward it does seem the cost of an online education and an on-campus education should be priced differently and accordingly. That pricing should be clear to all so that students, as consumers, can make their choices based on what they will be getting for their dollars.
The concerns expressed by Shaffer and others in these lawsuits should also be considered when colleges look at how much online learning will be used in classes offered on campus.
The bottom line is that online learning is not the same as the campus experience, and that should be a factor in tuition pricing.