• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Setting an Example

Out-of-state tuition for online classes? Really?

August 3, 2020

The Boy found out this weekend that all of his fall classes at UVA will be online. We got the notification shortly after we paid the (out-of-state) tuition for fall.

Color me irked.

I’m not irked at the fact that everything is online; I get that. I don’t want him, or anyone else, getting sick. But the fact that they’re charging full out-of-state tuition for classes in cyberspace doesn’t sit right.

But wait, one might be excused for thinking, isn’t your college doing the same thing?

No, it isn’t. I like to think we’re setting an example. Brookdale does not charge an out-of-county or out-of-state premium for online classes. If the class is virtual, everyone pays the in-county rate. My request of UVA is that it follow our example; for purely online classes, charge everybody the in-state rate.

If Brookdale can afford the hit, UVA certainly can. Think of it as the Brookdale Challenge.

We’re also setting an example with staff. Just as most faculty will be working from home, so will most staff. That’s not universal -- campus police and building maintainers can only do their jobs on-site, and there will be some staff to support the few areas teaching in person -- but the folks in financial aid, advising and the like will be mostly working from home. As with classes, the rule we’re using is to minimize campus presence whenever possible. The virus doesn’t care about your employment classification.

Staff have largely been left out of the public discussions about returning to campus. That’s a mistake. It’s true that a college can’t function without instructors. It’s also true that students don’t just magically appear in classes, and financial aid doesn’t magically process itself. People make those things happen, and if they didn’t, the college would grind to a halt. The people who make those things happen are important and deserve respect. At a basic level, that should involve concern for their safety.

To be fair, some of that apparent oversight may say more about journalism than about colleges. But it’s worth noting in public, just in case there’s any confusion.

If UVA balks at my suggestion -- call it a hunch -- I have an alternative. Everyone is concerned about retention and completion rates in the face of the shift to online. That’s probably an even greater risk for folks paying premium tuition for what is suddenly a nonpremium experience. I’ve written before of the “buy one year, get one free” idea for community colleges and was excited to see Marion Technical College actually take up the idea and run with it. Public universities could do something similar on a semester basis; if you finish the fall semester in good standing, get the spring either tuition-free or at a serious discount. But you only get the discount if you finish in good standing. Incentivize the behavior you want to see.

If I were confident that the pandemic would evaporate by, say, Halloween, I’d shrug off one frustrating semester. But at this point, it looks like it could go for a year or more. That’s a significant chunk of a student’s time in college. It’s time to make some adjustments.

So come on, UVA, take the Brookdale Challenge. If we can do it, you can do it.


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