Why Stanford should lower spring tuition

Opinion by Alison Cohen
April 8, 2020, 10:02 p.m.

In the COVID-19 era, the world has been forced to adapt to unprecedented circumstances. Despite this, Stanford has remained unflinching in its policy to charge full tuition for spring quarter. Despite a petition receiving nearly 1,700 signatures from students, the University insists that tuition will remain the same. Statements from the University suggest that changing tuition would be impossible because “the University costs remain the same.” Additionally, the University argues this would benefit only the wealthiest students, saying, “If we were to discount tuition, financial aid would be discounted.” 

These arguments seem especially puzzling as many of the services built into tuition are no longer available to students. Libraries, gyms and research labs are inaccessible to students in person for at least the next several months, while more intangible opportunities afforded by the Stanford education like in-person relationship building with faculty, a wide selection of classes and academic support from fellow students are also constrained by the academic setup of spring quarter. Further, while the administration argues that reducing tuition would necessitate a reduction in financial aid, the University’s endowment (the fifth largest of any university in the world) begs to differ. If there were ever a time for Stanford to use its $25 billion emergency fund, you would expect it to be in an emergency. But while Stanford has made a misstep with its policy choice, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of its policy decision is its unwillingness to listen to what students need. In a survey sent out to students, the consensus was clear — students felt it unfair to pay full tuition for a half-baked version of the Stanford education. 

Students raised a variety of concerns regarding paying full tuition, including the limitation in interpersonal relationships and the reduction in the academic experience. Some of their concerns are below:

  • “Stanford language classes are just now going to be rip-off Rosetta Stone classes. As someone taking two language classes next quarter, I’m disappointed that I will not be able to have the same immersive experience as a normal classroom but still have to pay full price .” — VinhHuy Le ’23
  • “Students pay tuition to be able to interact with TAs, professors and other students who are taking the classes at the same time. That interaction is not losslessly transferred to an online medium; a Zoom call where people’s mics are muted, the video is buffering, etc. is not the same as physically going to a professor’s office hours for face-to-face interaction that can genuinely help with understanding material.” — A member of the class of ’22 currently living in Kimball
  • “The value of a Stanford education is not in the physical substance of lectures but rather the enrichment we receive from engaging deeply in interactions with our peers and professors — in projects, spontaneous conversations after class, discussions and more. Doing class online takes out most of these components if not the full value of these components. Therefore, paying full tuition to watch videos online is of less value to me.” — Abby Taylor ’21
  • “I was really looking forward to taking Econ 1 in the team-based format and experiencing a new classroom style. Now, a modified team-based format will have to be administered online and the logistics of coordinating it look rough. For some classes at Stanford, the best part is working with friends and going to office hours to work out the psets.”— Kavya Varkey ’23
  • “In light of the current state of emergency, my mom, who is our household’s single income, has been forced to close her dental practice by the state. This complete stop in our flow of income has left my family in a very strained financial situation as we work to pay bills in a situation in which the forced closure of her practice is indefinite.” – Female member of the class of ’23 from Boston, MA
  • “As someone with a learning disability, the online learning scenario will be distracting, uninteresting and will not play to my strengths as a learner. So 16 units for me over Zoom would be near impossible. This, coupled with the fact that I am losing out on many other opportunities, makes me question whether it would be more useful of my time to try something other than school for a little while.” — Female member of the class of ’22
  • I am strongly, strongly considering taking a gap quarter due to the time difference of living in Taiwan, to the point of applying for jobs that I could pursue during the gap quarter …While some classes may be recorded, this would significantly degrade the learning quality if I decided to choose my health/wellbeing/sleeping schedule over synchronous learning on Pacific time.” — Dana Chieuh ’23
  •  “While there are great professors on campus, it’s doubtful that many of them are equipped to properly translate effective teaching from a classroom setting to a limited, digital one in such a short amount of time.” — Diego Villamizar ’21

Beyond these student testimonials, in a survey of nearly 44 students across a wide swath of majors, interests and class years, nearly half of them said they were considering a gap quarter. Of those considering a gap quarter, 72 percent of them said the cost of tuition would affect their decision to take a gap quarter.

In a quarter that has been turned completely upside down, normal processes must be rethought. In a quarter where international students will be required to take lower unit loads due to time differences, STEM and art majors will struggle with cancelled classes and students who suffer from learning disabilities will fear taking normal unit loads, the University needs to adapt. Whether it be charging on a unit-by-unit basis, reopening financial aid forms to account for changing economic circumstances or lowering tuition prices outright, it is unfair for the administration to continue to ignore the real, lived experiences of their students. 

If you would like to sign the petition that has, to date, received over 1,700 signatures, you can do so here

I also encourage you to voice your frustrations by emailing Provost Persis Drell at persis ‘at’ stanford.edu or Marc Tessier-Lavigne at president ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Contact Alison Cohen at alicohen ‘at’ stanford.edu

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