Petition for Tuition Refunds at Columbia Business School

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Dear President Lee Bollinger, Board of Trustees, and Dean Maglaras,

First and foremost, as MBA & EMBA students we want to express our deep gratitude for your work around the clock during this time of crisis. We agree that public health is of the utmost priority and respect Columbia Business School’s decision to make classes virtual in reaction to COVID-19. Please know how much we appreciate the timely efforts of CBS and its faculty and staff to accommodate the transition to fully online coursework. We also appreciate the decision to allow MBA students to reclassify B term courses to a Pass/Fail grading standard, which was accommodative to students adapting to major changes and challenges in their academic lives as well as in their daily personal lives.

But, we also need to be extremely realistic that virtual classes are dramatically subpar to an in-person experience and it is very disappointing that CBS has not already granted us a significant tuition reimbursement, especially given that NYC is the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis for the US. Virtual coursework does not provide the same educational value as the normal in-person classes that we expected when we enrolled. Much of the value of the CBS educational experience comes from interacting with our outstanding faculty in person, engaging in lively discussions with our fellow classmates and learning from each other’s experiences, and hearing from and meeting renowned guest speakers.

On top of subpar classroom experience, we are now also unable to take advantage of professional and social programs and groups, foreign and domestic learning travel trips, access to highly valued wider CBS benefits such as facilities, seminars and events, and of course graduation for the Class of 2020, which define the CBS experience. The experience is now much more reflective of what we would receive on free online platforms that offer CBS type courses. As a comparison, HBX, Harvard Business School’s online portal, offers online courses at a 70 - 94 percent discount to its in-person HBS MBA program.

It is also necessary to note that we MBA students have assumed tremendous financial and personal burdens to be here and receive that CBS experience. It is also important to note that many members of the class of 2020 also graduated into the Great Recession. We are now facing an economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus that could dwarf one of the most significant recessions in our country’s history. As a result, for most of us, that means large amounts of student debt, and for others, it means the spending of savings from our early careers. For some, these burdens have been further exacerbated by the wide ramifications of this health crisis. For international students, the disruption has triggered logistical and financial challenges impossible to imagine for their domestic classmates. For student-founders, the cancellation and virtualization of pitch competitions have meaningfully diminished their ability to showcase their efforts. For classmates still seeking internships or post-graduation employment, opportunities have now been rescinded or severely limited by the interruption of recruiting events and processes.

We, therefore, propose an 80 percent discount on spring tuition to reflect the current price differential between in-person and online programs. We understand that the school has stated that the business school will not be issuing a discount, but we find this response unacceptable given the dramatic change in the experience, particularly for CBS.

We recognize that the costs for the university might not change drastically by going online in short order, but we believe there must be increased room in the operating budget. Columbia also manages a 10.9 billion endowment -- one of the largest university endowments in the world. What is the purpose of our multi-billion dollar endowment if it cannot be tapped to support students -- the university's primary stakeholder -- during the most significant health and economic crisis in living memory?

Most importantly, we agreed to enter CBS with the promise of two full years of experiential learning and networking, and this experience has been severely compromised due to the crisis. We, as students of CBS, believe we have the right to ask for a decreased tuition in-line with the decreased value of our experience. Overall, a reduction in tuition would allow us to feel positively toward CBS in the long-term, especially for those of us graduating this year.

As an institution that has built a reputation on leadership and empathy, we are calling on you to exercise both by issuing an immediate significant tuition discount.

Respectfully signed, the members of Columbia Business School MBA Class of 2020 and 2021.

"Lose money for my firm, and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless." - Warren Buffett, Class of ‘51