Middlebury College Partial Tuition Refund for Spring Term

Middlebury College Partial Tuition Refund for Spring Term

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Hannah Frankel
Hannah Frankel signed this petition

In signing this petition, we insist that Middlebury College issue all affected students a partial tuition refund for the Spring term to compensate for in-person classes that were moved online and the full closure of its Vermont campus and all 36 locations of its C.V. Starr Schools Abroad as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  

While the college has offered prorated housing and dining refunds to students required to vacate campus, it has done nothing to address tuition refunds, which represent an ethically imperative gesture of good conscience in light of the fact that students are no longer receiving the educational experience, academic resources, and on-campus opportunities for which they paid in-full.     

While the university is not to blame for the coronavirus, it is undeniable that the product students are receiving is vastly different from one they were sold and paid for up-front in good faith. 

Despite the best efforts of professors, classes online and over Zoom are of inherently lower quality than in-person classes.  With “asynchronous coursework,” technical glitches, mute buttons on, and altered social dynamics, student participation (which supports learning and serves as important feedback to professors) is greatly decreased.  Peer-to-peer discussion and collaboration is severely limited, as are individual, spontaneous conversations with professors.    

At the C.V. Starr Schools Abroad, when classes were transitioned from in-person meetings to Zoom, many courses saw the number of hours dedicated to class meetings cut in half.  In Spain, for example, instead of meeting for 160 minutes a week, all graduate classes currently only convene for 80 minutes (except for one, which doesn’t convene at all now), meaning that access to professors has been dramatically reduced, lessons are more superficial and rushed, there are fewer opportunities to ask questions, and group work and in-class activities have been largely eliminated.       

In addition to decreased contact-hours and class quality, with campus and international program closures, students no longer have access to the resources and opportunities that are a fundamental part of their overall educational experience.  These resources include libraries, textbook course reserves, computer labs, printers and technology, science labs, art supplies, and studio theaters.  It can’t be assumed that all students have access to a quiet place to study, stable internet, or personal copies of their textbooks.  Equally valuable to the on-campus experience are extracurricular clubs and student organizations, intercollegiate and intramural sports, career fairs, networking and internship opportunities, guest speakers and presentations, campus events and activities, and spaces to socialize with peers outside of class.  Again, we understand that the cancelation of these activities is necessary due to the circumstances which are outside of Middlebury's control, but their loss nonetheless impacts the quality of students’ experience.  

Furthermore, Middlebury’s touted reputation as the premier institution for foreign language learning is based on its Language Pledge that students vow to uphold as they are immersed in their study abroad experience, thus “resulting in the rapid acquisition of linguistic and cultural fluency” and “dramatic breakthroughs.”  However, the promised language proficiency gains and yearning for intercultural understanding that attracted students to Middlebury’s fully immersive Schools Abroad became irrelevant when international campuses suspended operations and students were instructed to go home.  Students are unable to uphold the Pledge outside of an immersive environment.  Additionally, in-country excursions and cultural activities were canceled.  Upon returning back to the U.S., students who were studying abroad lost coverage through the GeoBlue health insurance they were required to pay for up-front as a mandatory part of tuition, meaning that they either have to purchase an additional plan or go without during this global health emergency.      

We recognize that Middlebury must continue to pay the full salaries of university professors and staff, and we are sincerely grateful for all of their hard work to move classes online on such short notice.  (Professors in particular have had to learn to operate new technology with very little training, make significant adjustments to their syllabi and course expectations, and adjust the altered dynamics of conducting classes digitally.  In our experience, they are all doing their best and acting with empathy towards their students).  Furthermore, while facility maintenance, utility, and cleaning costs have decreased as operations have gone online,  we understand that the university has incurred unexpected expenses in the transition to remote learning and is facing a downturn in revenue.  That said, Middlebury still has considerable resources at its disposal to do right by their students and offer a partial tuition refund.


According to the Middlebury’s most recent financial statement, as of June 30th, 2019, the university has at its disposal:

 

  • $1,157,786,000 in endowment funds of which over $180 million are board-designated endowment funds WITHOUT donor restrictions of which “amounts could be made available if necessary” (p. 13).
  • $202,177,000 in net assets WITHOUT donor restrictions
  • $65,176,000 total liquidity (not including endowment money)

 

As a not-for-profit institution with a total student body of about 2,800 students, surely Middlebury can run the numbers and figure out a way to meet its moral responsibility to issue a partial tuition refund.  The college has already acted responsibly and logically by moving classes online and prorating unused room and board, and we hope that it will extend its fair and reasonable decision-making to partial tuition refunds.  Doing so would be an honorable and supportive gesture to students (potential future donors), many of whom have gone into tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to attend Middlebury, and all of whom will likely be graduating into a major recession.