Opinion: College students deserve more than just a housing and dining refund

A lost week of the semester and change to off-campus learning deserves a partial refund from the UI to students.


Sid Peterson

Receptionists Christian Castano and Mackenzie Goss are seen at the University Housing and Dining Administration Building on Tuesday, August 28, 2018. University Housing and Dining are in process of making changes in their Residence Education Model.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Columnist

With the severity of the spread of COVID-19, it is no surprise that the University of Iowa had to suspend a face-to-face classroom environment and adapt to an online learning system. In the beginning of the transition, there was much concern over what refunds students would receive for the semester.

The UI on March 30 notified students who had purchased a meal plan and were living in on-campus housing that their U-Bill would be credited 48.795 percent of their current room and meal plan while students living off-campus who had purchased a meal plan would be credited 48.739 percent. Course fees as well as recreational activity charges would also be refunded, but students are still expected to pay tuition in full.

While the UI understandably needs financial support to continue paying faculty and covering other operational expenses, students deserve to receive a partial refund of their tuition.

One reason students should be credited is because of the extended spring break that was put in place to give instructors the opportunity to convert their courses into an online format. However, this extra week will not be made up as the school year still ends the week of May 11.

If the tuition that students pay is supposed to cover a 16-week semester of learning, it seems unfair to charge students for an empty week of instruction. Thus, students should receive at least a fraction of the full amount they are paying.

In addition, all students are now completing their school work at their own home rather than on campus. This makes the concept of out-of-state versus in-state tuition rates seem rather inequitable. According to the university’s admissions website, the estimated cost for an Iowa resident is $9,830 while it costs $31,793 for a nonresident.

The significant difference of $21,953 makes it unequal to charge a nonresident for taking their classes at home just like an Iowa resident rather than on campus. If anything, there should at least be an equal and flat rate for all students now that everyone is completing their work off campus.

Even though online learning is still a form of education, students are missing the in-person and hands-on educational instruction they thought they were paying for. Pre-recorded lectures provide no opportunity for students to ask questions or interact with their professor on the spot. Online assignments, especially for labs, make it difficult for students to receive substantial feedback since all work and comments must be completed electronically, which can sometimes be unclear.

While the implementation of video-conference tool Zoom allows students the opportunity to communicate with the professors or teaching assistants for office hours, not everyone has reliable access to the internet at home, which limits their ability to use the resources that tuition covers. In addition, not everyone lives close enough to campus to use the WiFi hot spots around Iowa City for students to take advantage of if they don’t have access to the internet.

The UI has supported students experiencing financial need during the COVID-19 crisis by funneling support through an emergency fund, through which grants are distributed to Hawkeyes facing issues such as making their rent payment. It’s important that Hawkeyes most in need are receiving extra support, but the university needs to be mindful of the cost burden on UI students at large.

Understandably, the UI still needs a source of funding while the state remains an unreliable partner — especially as it looks more likely that the state, despite its current economic strength, will still face tough budgetary constraints because of this pandemic. But students deserve a partial refund of their tuition because of the lost week of instruction and unexpected change to off-campus learning. This experience isn’t what we willingly paid thousands of dollars for.