Partial Tuition and Fees Reduction for Columbia Mailman School of Public Health Students

Partial Tuition and Fees Reduction for Columbia Mailman School of Public Health Students

July 4, 2020
Petition to
Linda Fried and
Signatures: 580Next Goal: 1,000
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Why this petition matters

Started by Vincent Zhang

Dear President Lee Bollinger, Provost Ira Katznelson and Dean Linda Fried,

As future public health professionals, we are acutely aware of the health and economic crises the world is experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As eager as we are to set foot on campus and meet our public health professors and classmates face-to-face, we understand and align with the Mailman School’s decision to hold nearly all public health courses online for the Fall 2020 semester. We recognize that social distancing will ultimately save lives and reduce the potential for a second wave of the virus in the state with the highest number of COVID-19 cases to date. It is a decision that not every school has adopted, and we commend the Mailman School for prioritizing student, faculty, and community health.

This pandemic has had far-reaching implications beyond health. The disproportionate effects on marginalized groups, namely Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities, are seen time and again within almost all public health crises. The most apparent impact of this virus, aside from mortality, has been on individuals’ financial security. Many students and their families have been impacted by layoffs with little or no relief in sight, as the pandemic continues to devastate our nation. Current U.S. unemployment remains historically high and is contributing to the worsening of the equity gap. As a new class of public health practitioners enters higher education, incoming students of color and students from lower-income families are facing additional, unique obstacles in accessing this education.   

As a global leader in public health, the Mailman School is surely aware of these alarming effects of the pandemic. During this genuinely unparalleled time, we demand that the Mailman School of Public Health stay committed to their mission of equality and address the needs of its most vulnerable students.  Thus far, the deans at the Mailman School have stated that tuition costs for the upcoming Fall 2020 semester will not be reduced. We urge the deans to reconsider this position, recognizing the economic losses of the students and their families, and addressing the direct impact of this loss on the ability to pay for tuition, along with housing, utilities, food, transportation, and other expenses. 

We urge the administration to fulfill the following key requests:

  1. Reduce tuition by 50% for the virtual Fall 2020 semester and any subsequent virtual semesters due to COVID-19.
  2. Eliminate additional school fees that rely on students’ in-person presence on campus, such as the student activity fee and health service fee. In fact, we urge the University to reflect on providing free Telehealth services, especially counseling for its students to keep their mental health in check through these unparalleled times.
  3. Provide complete transparency on fund allocation and a budgetary breakdown.
  4. Reallocate financial aid and scholarships from students who deferred admission to those that accepted admission, where applicable.
  5. Provide clarity on the timeline to lift the current Columbia University hiring freeze- many incoming public health students depend on student jobs (such as RA and TA positions) to make ends meet. 

Although we understand that it is necessary to adapt to the online-learning lifestyle for the Fall semester, we strongly believe that it is unreasonable to require students to pay the same tuition fees as they would in-person. The $20,490 tuition for the Fall 2020 semester has already been increased from last year’s tuition of $19,894 per semester. While this raise is standard for most universities, we urge Columbia University to reflect on the needs of their students in a time of global health and economic crises and to annul this raise and decrease tuition by 50% for the fall semester.  

While the implementation of online classes may be a necessity during these unprecedented times, they cannot fully replicate an in-person classroom experience.  In a recent article cited in the New York Times, Columbia faculty personally advocated for an in-person Fall term and spoke about the importance of in-person classes for students. This is especially true given that students will not have access to resources like libraries, labs, and University facilities. It is also important to remember that building relationships with classmates, faculty, and the greater community will look completely different. While technology is a cornerstone of the 21st century and provides unique opportunities, students may experience burn-out and fatigue due to increased screen time and the constant need to stay up-to-date with various communication platforms. The ability to immerse oneself in the vibrant learning community of Columbia University is simply not possible through a laptop. Furthermore, just as Mailman programs needed to adapt to the needs of the pandemic, the School must also adapt tuition to reflect the value of the adapted program, considering that every aspect of the program (academic, social, personal, and professional) is hindered by the virtual learning experience. The quality of online instruction, compared to the regular/full/in-person experience, is irrefutably lesser. 

Additionally, the switch to online schooling places an undue burden on international and out-of-state students who reside in vastly different time zones and may not have access to a reliable internet connection.  Because Fall 2020 will be held virtually, many students have opted to stay in their current locations, spanning not only across the United States but also around the world. For students not residing in the same time zone as Mailman School, this raises an issue regarding abnormal timings and schedules reliant on the Eastern Standard Time Zone. Asynchronous learning is not favorable, especially considering the associated lack of interaction with professors.  Students will not be able to ask questions and clarify their understanding of challenging topics in real-time.  These concerns extend to professors’ office hours as well. Alternatively, synchronous courses provide additional strains on students outside of Eastern Standard Time. This has the potential to disrupt sleep schedules and healthy routines that may put the student at a disadvantage, pressuring the student to choose between health and engagement with their studies. Ultimately, solutions for distance-learning will come at some costs to students living outside Eastern Standard Time. The virtual nature of the semester raises serious concerns about the quality of education for students with unreliable connections, students who have difficulty obtaining devices that are compatible with Mailman’s program requirements, and students who reside outside Eastern Standard Time.

For these reasons, we, as Mailman students, respectfully disagree with the administration’s assertion that the quality of online education will be equivalent to or better than that of an in-person learning environment. 

In addition to amending the cost of tuition, we press the University to eliminate the following fees:

Student Activity Fee: $150

  • Helps cover the costs of student events and activities and supports student organizations.
  • This fee should be waived since students are now unable to gather and work in the community. 

Health Service Fee: $749

  • Charged to all full-time students to cover the use of the campus health service clinic.
  • This fee should be waived since students will not have access to the campus health clinic during the virtual semester. 

One-Time Documents Fee (new students only): $105

  • This fee should be waived.

International Students and Scholars Fee: $100

  • This fee should be waived, or at the very least, reduced, since international students will not be on campus and will be unable to participate in any in-person programming, events, or support. 

Computer Fee: $200

  • This fee should be waived since students do not have access to any of Columbia University’s computers. Under the consideration that the computer fee is related to email hosting, there should still be a significant fee reduction. 

Many Mailman students chose Columbia over other renowned schools because of the exceptional resources and in-person networking opportunities that Columbia offers. While this is a difficult time for us all, other Universities have taken steps to alleviate the burden on their students. To state a few examples, Mount Sinai eliminated its enrollment fee and froze the tuition rate at the same amount as last year, whereas American University has already promised tuition reduction for online classes this fall.  These measures show that universities have the resources to be empathetic towards the needs and struggles of their students, and we urge Columbia University to do the same and review its position on tuition and fees as they prepare for the upcoming virtual semester. 

Once again, we are proud to be a part of the Mailman community and are excited to start our journey as public health professionals. However, we ask that Mailman address the stated demands: tuition reduction by 50% and total budget transparency - including a full itemization of how the funds are spent. It is paramount that these demands be taken into consideration IMMEDIATELY as the administration moves forward to planning for the Fall 2020 semester. Together, we can rise to the challenge of these unparalleled times and work to set an example for other schools. Thank you for taking the time to read this petition and for your consideration of these demands on behalf of the incoming Class. 


Mailman School of Public Health Class of 2022


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Signatures: 580Next Goal: 1,000
Support now