Opinion: I'm a student and I know your school is lying to you about safely re-opening

Now, more than ever, the institutions we've been taught to trust are taking advantage of us. In the face of a global pandemic, some students are being asked to return to in-person instruction as if nothing has happened, while others are being forced into awkward hybrid models and sub-par online platforms. To add insult to injury, those of us online are being asked to pay full price for a half-baked service, and we can't do much about it. The college experience has been lost, along with all of the connections and resources that make a modern education what it's supposed to be. But of course, the mounting expenses remain.

Universities planning any kind of "in-person" instruction push for plans that are unrecommended, unrealistic, and unsustainable. In Spring 2020, like most schools, business was running smoothly until the panic raced its way through the country faster than the virus. All schools were forced to close down and make an ungraceful switch to online instruction. In May, immediately following the campus closure, my school, the University of Portland announced plans for in-person instruction for the Fall semester of 2020.

Even in the worst of times, my university was staunch on their original plans. They told students that in-person/hybrid instruction took up every ounce of their time and effort. Yet, when involved in the creation of said plans, the lack of organization was shocking. There was never a backup plan. There was never an acknowledgment of what could be. There was only a desperate desire to convince students that in-person instruction was feasible.

As I spoke with faculty and administrators personally over the summer, their evaluations of the situation consistently contradicted that of the public plan. Most of whom I spoke to were in full confidence that an online switch was inevitable. The odd thing was when I spoke to friends, peers, and students from UP, none of them had a clue that an online transition was even possible. Every school-wide email throughout the summer spoke only of in-person instruction, leaving out any and all transparency to those that give thousands of dollars to this institution. It wasn't until 3 days before our tuition deadline that the school announced a fully online pivot, while in tandem asking for full-priced tuition. This has sent each of UP's 4,000 students into chaos as they struggle to salvage their plans and their money. My university waited until the last possible second to tell the truth to their students as they soaked up every dollar they could. Many other universities are attempting to do the same.

If your school is anything like mine, they are planning to charge full-priced tuition, or even increase it. My university has increased tuition a whopping 18% over the last four years, totaling an increase of over $7,500 per student. Such a drastic hike in prices is completely unacceptable in any case... yet during a pandemic, this is an example of systemic corruption. "Why are schools doing this?", you might ask. The answer is one word: greed. Students want transparency; this should not be too much to ask for when they are expending tens of thousands of dollars each year to their university. After contributing so much to their institution, there is a clear expectation that students and their finances will be respected. The unspoken moral contract signed when a student commits to their school has been broken. Fraudulent behavior by universities will not be tolerated.

As an Executive Board member in my school's Student Government, I have had the privilege of meeting with countless administrators and professors; most of whom agree that any form of in-person schooling will not be sustained for even 3 weeks, sending Universities into a frenzy similar to the traumatic chaos of COVID Spring 2020. This said, schools are knowingly stealing students' money without an ounce of transparency.

Most institutions have an invoice tuition deadline in August, just days away. Many universities, like mine, are likely planning to charge full/increased tuition for this Fall for online education, without even an asterisk next to 2020. The full truth is hidden to the student populace.

Universities fully know that a 100% online switch is not only guaranteed, but inevitable. COVID-19 continues to surge and escalate around the US, as we are setting new records for deaths/cases daily. Colleges are aware of this and what it will do to their finances, yet, sadly enough, they care more about their wallets than the health of their students.

Blatant disregard for student well-being has been uncovered through COVID-19, and it seems that schools are likely to blame their students for the inevitable online switch. In an article published by The AtlanticThe Atlantic, students will "get infected, universities will rebuke them for it; campuses will close, students will be blamed."1 There is no feasible way that students could be monitored for their behavior, no matter how careful the collective student body is. Universities are planning to put their students at risk in order to make their ends meet, and they are under the assumption that they can get away with it; which, terrifyingly enough, they most likely will.

It must be said that many universities function just like businesses. They provide jobs for thousands of employees, they donate to greater causes, and they offer services to their entire community. However, just like any other business, they should not be allowed to get away with scheming and conniving practices. College is already absurdly difficult to afford, and when those same institutions that charge thousands of dollars lie to their students, it turns educating into profiteering. I, along with many other students and university staff, cannot imagine a scenario where this "in-person/hybrid" model operates and achieves its intended purpose. It is too much to ask of students to decide between continuing their education like "normal" under unprecedented circumstances, and keeping themselves, their peers, and their loved ones safe. I hear every day that students have felt robbed of their money from colleges pre-pandemic, yet now that universities are making empty promises and spewing white lies, this by many students is considered theft of the highest degree. I understand schools need to keep tuition prices high to keep up with increasing housing prices and economic inflation, but now is not the time to play games with the financial status of thousands.

Students across the country that rely on their school for services such as housing, food, and healthcare access are now left wondering, what's next? It disturbs me to know that universities would put their finances before the well-being of their community. Students are being treated like pawns in a chess match, and administrators don't think they have the power to fight back. Now, students are left scrambling for answers. Those that have had their universities come out with honesty in this situation are scrambling to change their plans and figure out their next steps, with classes just weeks away. This leaves another group of students that blissfully believe their untruthful university, only to be ripped of all hope and tuition just weeks into the school year.

Many universities have largely untapped funds that are saved for emergencies or prominent projects, yet many of those same universities have not come out with plans to use those funds in what seems like a substantial emergency. In no way do I want to shut down any school, but I cannot stand idly by while students are getting ripped off left and right, not at all receiving what they set out to pay for. By refusing to lower tuition, universities are knowingly exacerbating the equity gap in today's education system.

I find it wrong that universities feel that they can bleed the pockets of their students in the face of a global pandemic. Students pay for the experience, the activities, the events, the community: not just the education. To charge the full price for something the buyer did not intend to purchase is unethical. Colleges need to roll back any increases in their tuition, tap into their emergency funds, and lower the cost of tuition especially for those in financial distress.

To every student: this news is daunting, yet there is a better way forward and this is possible to navigate. I urge each affected individual to consider their options at hand. Reach out to your academic advisor and financial aid office to see what alternatives are available, and act accordingly.

I, for example, am planning to take part-time courses this semester, while working part-time. I am doing this because:

a.) I choose to save thousands of dollars.

b.) I cannot afford private school tuition for online classes.

c.) I refuse to let my University rob me of my money.

My decision is in no way a one-size-fits-all option, but it is possible for some. I am able to say that my scholarships and financial aid will stay intact due to my school's policies, although I cannot say the same for others. This said, I highly encourage you to look at what is presented in front of you, and assess all your options. Reflect hard about if your school is being honest with you and question their motives. Evaluate what makes the most sense for you. You and your friends' emotional and financial well-beings are at stake, at risk, and in the hands of your lying university. Take the power back.

"Drew Jones is a student and the Speaker of the Senate at the University of Portland. You can send feedback on his piece to his Instagram account here.

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