College should alter student fees amid unusual semester

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Blow Hall houses the College's Bursar's Office, which handles tuition and fees during the fall 2020 semester. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

The College of William and Mary made a bold move by choosing to open for the fall 2020 semester. While an accelerated opening for undergraduates Aug. 19 amid the COVID-19 pandemic carries a number of benefits for the College, mainly grounded in financial security, it seems questionable whether the safety, best interests and specific needs of the entire student body are prioritized. More importantly, the total cost of attendance remains intact at $40,034 for in-state students entering during the 2020-21 academic year, and $63,370 for out-of-state students according to the College website.

At first glance, these costs for both in-state and out-of-state undergraduate students seem reasonable with the College now being open. However, these costs would not be fully justified when we consider how all students face a number of unique obstacles this semester. For students opting for in-person classes this semester, social gatherings are restricted to a few people or are provided through a virtual platform. These students also are constantly looking out for their own health and the health of others on campus. Students with an entirely remote schedule do not have access to many on-campus resources that were available prior to the pandemic. Therefore, the price to attend the College is approximately the same as past semesters, but the benefits are not.

“Students with an entirely remote schedule do not have access to many on-campus resources that were available prior to the pandemic. Therefore, the price to attend the College is approximately the same as past semesters, but the benefits are not.”

As an undergraduate student taking all remote classes and residing at home this semester, I have found both advantages and disadvantages specific to online learning. In terms of disadvantages tied to online learning, I have found it challenging to find an appropriate physical setting for my zoom meetings. While this appears to be a minor downside to virtual learning, it can truly be a frustrating matter if it becomes a regular concern. Higher noise levels in a normally personal setting is often uncontrollable. For example, individuals living with you could choose to engage in a noise inducing activity during a class lecture or exam. This leads to a student becoming distracted from lecture material, missing important points from class discussions and losing time on exams. Under pre-pandemic conditions, this would not have been a cause for concern because the College would provide a dedicated space for class meetings.

Next, there are also several technology related concerns tied to online learning. A stable internet source is essentially a prerequisite for Zoom meetings in that it is impossible to join a meeting without it. Even with a fairly reliable internet connection, there can be situations where the Wi-Fi refuses to cooperate, forcing an individual to become unable to stay for a virtual meeting. So, technology lies at the core of online learning. The potential to establish more meaningful and personal relationships with faculty has also become more unlikely with most office hours being conducted on Zoom.

Finally, I do feel that there are a number of benefits that go hand in hand with online learning, including asynchronous courses to accommodate various time zones and not having to drive or physically go to every class meeting.

Overall, I think that it is great that the College is offering both in-person and remote classes for the fall 2020 semester, but it would be unethical for the College to treat this semester like any other semester that has preceded the pandemic. Students’ sincere concerns regarding obstacles unique to this semester should be addressed and compensated for. Perhaps lower tuition rates and options to take all or some courses this semester on a pass/fail basis could serve as a viable solution to the majority of student concerns.

Email Judith Hahn at jhahn@email.wm.edu.