UT students deserve partial tuition refund

Gautham Metta

I’ve spent the last week in quarantine at home, and it’s been a blast. The highlight of my day is my evening walk with my dog and my daily argument with my brother over who gets the Xbox. But all this free time got me thinking: If I’m paying to attend The University of Texas at Austin, why should I be receiving an education from The University of Texas at Zoom for the same price?

I understand that due to COVID-19 it’s necessary to shut down our beloved University and move to an online format — it’s a safe and efficient way to keep classes moving somewhat linearly amid the chaos. However, online class removes me from the benefit of being in an actual classroom setting. While this isn’t the case for all students, many of us fellow Longhorns are less likely to pull out our phones and check out the latest coronavirus meme in front of our professors versus doing so in an online lecture. When I’m sitting in class, I’m more likely to pay attention to the instruction and take at least halfway decent notes.

While online classes are the only option at this point, it’s important to understand that the level of instruction and learning is simply not the same as classroom learning. When I took an online class at UT, I didn’t pay attention 100% of the time. I’d check my phone, do homework for other classes or chat with my friends. For many students, online classes are simply not viable options for them as learners because putting them in front of a professor reinforces their learning.

One of my classes requires a notebook to take notes on and splitting my 11-inch laptop between RStudio and class slides. How am I supposed to watch instruction, type my code and look at the slides on my tiny laptop? How are my CNS friends supposed to do their lab experiments? How are my theatre friends supposed to practice their plays by themselves? How are we supposed to do our group projects? Zoom can only do so much. It can’t replace the effectiveness of in-person office hours or the effectiveness of in-person classroom discussions and peer collaboration. Early March, one of my professors offered a Zoom lecture in lieu of normal instruction; the Zoom lecture had no audio for about half the lecture even though multiple students informed the professor that there was no sound. How many times will this happen at the expense of my grade?

According to the University website, my fixed in-state tuition is $12,550 per year before books, materials and fees. The University of Phoenix, the leading online university, charges $9,552 for one year, 12 credit hours each semester. Because this is Texas and we must account for our distinguished faculty, it’s fair to still pay a little more, say $11,000. So, I should get at least $1,500 back right? Even though I’m not in Austin, I still have to pay rent — a burden thousands of other students share even if we can’t live there. I haven’t even mentioned the out-of-state students who will be paying $43,428 to get the same Zoom lectures. That simply isn’t fair.

While I understand UT needs money to operate, the University should consider that many of our jobs are indefinitely suspended — some students are scrambling right now to find ways to pay their rent. Just because the world is shutting down doesn’t mean bills go away. While the counterargument exists that UT has bills to pay as well, our tuition only accounts for 22% of the schools operating budget. That means there can be some wiggle room.

I implore the administration to think about our other costs of attendance like rent and loans. Other universities such as Ohio State, Nebraska, SFA and TCU have already begun refunding some housing and dining costs, and I urge this institution to be a leader among them and even refund some of our tuition. It’s our money, and we deserve some of it back if we’re not getting the education we were promised.

Gautham Metta is a sophomore finance major from Dallas, Texas.