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COX: U.Va. must consider reimbursements for students amid COVID-19 pandemic

The University must address potential compensation for tuition, housing and dining costs for its students in an effort to fairly reflect these policy changes

Beginning March 19, the University will hold all of its classes online.
Beginning March 19, the University will hold all of its classes online.

As the imminent danger of COVID-19, or coronavirus, has descended upon the United States, the University recently released their course of action regarding the pandemic. Beginning March 19, the University will hold all of its classes online. Additionally, they strongly urge all students to either stay home or return home if they are currently in Charlottesville. This policy will be reevaluated after April 5 at the earliest, but in light of many other schools having already committed to online courses for the rest of the semester, the University following suit would come as no surprise.

Make no mistake, what follows is not a critique of the University's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but rather a suggestion as to where U.Va. ought to go from here. With all in-person classes being canceled and subsequently moved online for the time being, it is only fair that the University charge students online tuition rates while these changes are in place. 

Currently, the average cost per credit hour across all undergraduate programs is $603 for in-state students and $1,704 for out-of-state students. The 2019-20 cost for fully online undergraduate and certificate programs is listed as $442 per credit hour. Students are required to complete 120 credits to graduate, so one can assume the average student is currently taking 15 credits this semester.

There are roughly 19 weeks in the 2020 spring academic semester. The average semester tuition cost across undergraduate programs is currently $9,045 in-state and $25,560 out-of-state, which breaks down to $476 and $1,345 per week respectively. For online programs, the cost of a 15 credit semester would be $6,630, about $349 per week. If the University adjusts its costs to the new policy, the average cost of tuition will decrease by $127 per week for in-state students and $996 per week for out-of-state students. With about 9 weeks left in the semester, and a reasonable chance students do not return to normal classes for the remainder of the year, converting to online tuition would lower the average cost for the rest of the semester by $1,143 for in-state rates and $5,823 out-of-state. Obviously, costs vary by program at the University, meaning this calculation serves as a rough estimate, however, it provides an overview of how significant this tuition change would be. 

I am aware President Jim Ryan and the rest of the University staff did not want to make the decision to cancel on-Grounds classes for the foreseeable future — however, great changes come with great repercussions. In this case, students deserve to be reimbursed for the difference between the current tuition they pay and the lower cost of online tuition. I am not saying that the University is currently refusing to compensate their students, as they have not had the chance with the policy being announced only days ago. My goal here is to ensure we do not get wrapped up in the chaos which is COVID-19 and forget to appropriately adjust the already high costs of attending college to levels that fairly reflect the University’s policy change. The University is making an effort to do their best in a bad situation, but students did not sign up to attend the University of Virginia - Online.

In conjunction with tuition changes, the University will also need to account for potential housing and dining reimbursement. Students who are able to return home and heed the University’s warning to stay away from U.Va. should not continue to be charged for housing and meals they are being advised to avoid. It is wise to encourage students to steer clear of Charlottesville altogether if they are going to move online, but failing to reimburse students for their cooperation leaves little incentive for students to actually obey these warnings. If individuals are still paying for dining or housing, they will be put in a situation where they are forced to choose between following Ryan’s advice or getting use out of the services they already paid for — two choices which should not be mutually exclusive. 

Again, I commend the University’s timely and responsible efforts for dealing with such unforeseen and potentially dangerous circumstances. I believe that Ryan and the rest of the University's faculty are making all of their decisions with the best interests of students in mind. However, I am writing about reimbursement so that the University can also account for our financial interests as a result of their new policy. Students should be charged for the services they are provided, meaning if the University is moving online, students should pay online tuition. Additionally, students encouraged to stay home should not continue to bear the financial burden of services that they would be kept away from if they follow the University’s advice. As we move forward under this new policy, I believe it is the responsibility of U.Va., as well as other colleges and universities adopting similar policies, to appropriately compensate their students. 

Cameron Cox is a third-year in the Batten School. 

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.