Tuition Reduction: Teachers College 2020

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On June 23rd Thomas Bailey, President of Teachers College at Columbia University, announced that instruction for Fall classes will be delivered online with very few exceptions. From a safety standpoint, this seems a sound decision in the midst of Covid-19 to preserve the wellbeing of Columbia staff, students, faculty, and other New Yorkers in the area. However, in the President’s update there was no mention of reduction in cost to students that reflected the change to online learning aside from a $239 discount in college fees.

We propose this petition for a discounted tuition rate of 30% for the Fall semester of classes, or for as long as instruction is being held online. The President writes in his update that “given current circumstances [with Covid-19], we can achieve our mission more efficiently if we operate primarily online through the end of 2020.” Online instruction may be more efficient for the school in terms of maintaining guaranteed income through tuition, but it is hard to see how the College could support the idea that it is fully achieving its mission with regard to students. We recognize the financial strains that Covid-19 has put on the College, but a reduction in tuition during the course of online instruction would be a feasible way for the College to retain students for at least the Fall semester; a large number of students are considering deferral (which is being declined for many) or re-application to their program at a later date, which would result in a significant financial loss for the College. Reduced tuition is likely to be a powerful incentive to those students to maintain their plans to attend classes this Fall, providing a more economically feasible option than paying upwards of $21,000 per semester for online learning.

Many courses of study at Teachers College innately require collaborative and hands-on learning to fully grasp the content of the curriculum, especially in subject areas central to the college’s mission such as education, counseling, and leadership among others. Online instruction does not adequately meet these needs. We understand that Teachers College is a premier learning institution with very talented faculty, but online learning in one’s home is innately less engaging and less effective than receiving in-person instruction with more individual attention to students. For example, while we applaud the College’s efforts to accommodate students in different time zones through asynchronous classes, this structure reduces the amount of live instruction that students will be receiving and contributes to a loss of the classroom collaboration that is experienced during in-person learning. The current tuition rates reflect the value of a more positive education experience that stems from the individual attention and group work in a traditional academic environment which promotes concentration and learning. Many students are currently living with family outside of the city, in households that may not be conducive to focusing on a masters or doctorate-level curriculum; under these circumstances learning is bound to be disrupted, resulting in lower retention of information and a generally inferior learning experience for all involved.

A 30% reduction in tuition costs for the duration of online instruction would exemplify Teachers College’s core values of equity and inclusion. Factors such as unequal learning environments at home, loss of income due to Covid-19, and reduced work-study opportunities greatly impact your students’ abilities to receive and fund the high-quality education that the College is working to provide. A reduction in tuition is not unprecedented during these times; University of Denver, University of Lynchburg, and others have reduced the tuition cost for their graduate students as a result of current circumstances in efforts to improve accessibility. In addition, we would like to note Teachers College and Columbia University’s sizeable endowments ($315.9 million and $10.9 billion respectively), and how these resources could be utilized as a method of providing for the student body during these difficult times. In order to fully accommodate students’ current circumstances and to avoid making education inaccessible to the majority of students living outside of academic settings, we respectfully ask that you reduce tuition expense by 30% for the period in which learning continues to be online. Thank you for taking the time to consider this petition.

We look forward to your response,

Current and incoming students of Teachers College, Fall 2020