As the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the nature of higher education seemingly overnight, many students have been asking themselves an important question: is a university education still worth it? As Stanford was quick to evict 7,400 undergraduates at the onset of the pandemic in mid-March but reluctant to meet tuition refund requests from students who rightfully felt they weren’t getting their money’s worth, it is now faced with the difficult task of minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission within the University community while also providing an education that students will pay for. Though the University’s recent messages to the student body indicate that Stanford is trying to balance these two factors, it is difficult to imagine how it will be able to provide many, if any, in-person opportunities for us students to connect with faculty and peers in classes or extracurricular activities. Thus, many students have decided to or are considering taking gap quarter(s) or a gap year. As a student of a modest background who represents many minorities on campus, I’d like to share what I believe are excellent reasons to take time off of Stanford during the 2020-2021 academic year with my campus community and the undergraduate student body.
- 2020 will undoubtedly be an important year in history. Don’t waste it taking classes online. First and foremost, this is the most obvious point about the upcoming academic year. Stanford online simply doesn’t measure up to the typical experience of an in-person Stanford education, and sitting alone with a laptop isn’t a good use of many students’ time. Less than halfway through the year, 2020 has already made history. Beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the new year brought a new, socially distant way of life. Then, the world shook a second time as the Black Lives Matter movement gained significant ground, carrying traction across the globe. Yet, even as these events took place this spring, many students just sat at home, taking quizzes on Canvas and uploading p-sets to Gradescope. Why waste time taking classes online as the world changes around you? Instead of enrolling in Stanford online, consider spending time doing something more meaningful, whether it be taking on an internship or paid service opportunity, participating in protests, volunteering to be a contact tracer or helping to raise funds to support those in need during the economic crisis. Stanford will still be there in September 2021, but the chance to actively participate in an important time in history might not.
- Stanford online isn’t worth your time or money. Stanford can’t commit to bringing all students back to campus? Fine. But all students can’t commit to paying full price for an off-campus education. As the University has remained firm on its decision not to lower tuition, students should ask themselves whether Stanford’s ticket price of $55,473 a year — nearly the median annual household income in the US — is worth it without an in-person experience. Even as Stanford offers to “do their best” to bring students back to campus, the University is clear that instruction will be predominantly online during the 2020-2021 academic year, and that the activities that make Stanford worth the money — including clubs, social gatherings and other recreational activities — won’t be happening anytime soon. Stanford is trying to maximize their financial gain from room and board funds without providing any of the experiences that make a Stanford education most valuable to its students.
- Having even half of all students on campus will mean a COVID-19 outbreak on campus. Stanford’s most recent message to the student body states that the University will allow half the student body on campus at any given time, with frosh and sophomores in the fall and summer quarters and juniors and seniors in the winter and spring. This seems very aspirational from a public health standpoint — having even half the student body on campus allows ample opportunity for the coronavirus to spread. Similar examples of student-athletes returning to their home campuses in anticipation of the upcoming football season have demonstrated that even a small number of students living together will see the virus spread among them. Stanford has championed its decision as a safer compromise for students, but the fact remains that the University’s self-identified “highly communal” dorms and dining halls will still be vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks even at half capacity. Bringing students back in this manner makes campus essentially uninhabitable for at-risk students. Worse, the move still takes away the sanctuary of on-campus housing from many students who truly need it for the entire year, such as students with unsafe home conditions who are not recognized by the University as officially being at-risk. Having students on campus by quarter isn’t a compromise for the betterment of student health and safety, but for Stanford’s bottom line by allowing them to collect room and board fees from students eager to return to campus life.
- Stanford can (and will) evict you again. Because students returning to campus will almost certainly mean an outbreak of COVID-19 at Stanford, even those students who do choose to return should not expect to be allowed to stay for very long. Stanford’s most recent email to the student body is carefully worded to avoid holding the University to any confirmed plan for next year. Even though each class year is supposedly guaranteed two quarters on campus, Marc Tessier-Lavigne notes that all plans are “dependent on… county orders,” indicating that there is no real certainty. In the same message, MTL also hints that students will be asked to leave if and when cases spike again, stating that “[Stanford will] encourage students to bring only essential items” in case the “need arises” for students to suddenly leave campus. This is paired with a revision to the residence agreement for next year, which includes new provisions allowing Stanford to “immediately and without notice” terminate any student’s residency, “at the sole discretion of Stanford.” Essentially, Stanford allows itself to evict everyone, even its most vulnerable students, at any time, even if it means some students may be homeless and/or at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Before jumping back into campus life, students should consider whether they are willing to put themselves at the mercy of a University that has already shown it will prioritize profit over student health and well-being.
- Starting your career a year later won’t hurt you in the long run, but missing a year of in-person education will. Perhaps most importantly, Stanford students should remember that the most valuable part of a Stanford education is not the classes themselves — it’s the time spent building connections with faculty, peers and in-industry professionals that will be valuable later on. Stanford’s online setting does not offer much when it comes to building long-lasting connections. Most professors will never see their students’ faces in an online class, and making new connections with classmates is impossible when everyone has their camera turned off. Even though taking a gap year will technically mean starting your professional career a year later, wasting an entire year of in-person opportunities at Stanford will put you even further behind in the long run. Instead of spending a year sitting alone with your laptop, consider spending a year volunteering, working or doing anything more meaningful than Zoom University.
Contact Stephanie Gady at sgady ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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