Opinion: AU must take more decisive action to support students for the fall semester

Questions of tuition reduction and housing need to be taken seriously by University

Opinion: AU must take more decisive action to support students for the fall semester
Lauren Patetta is a staff columnist for The Eagle

American University announced its plan for the fall semester on Tuesday and, as always, it was met with confusion, questions and concern. The core of the plan is the decision to implement a hybrid learning system, in which classes will be held through a combination of online and in-person meetings, and that AU will take necessary precautions to enforce social distancing. 

The problem is, there’s still so much left unanswered, and many students are rightfully upset.

There was a lot of information outlined in the plan, and it would be impossible to unpack all of it. But, the core response from students is one that has been repeated on numerous occasions: The University needs to do more to support students through these difficulties. 

One decision that fostered uncertainty among students, was the announcement that freshmen would live in single-occupancy dorms, and that there would be space for only a select number of sophomores. Upperclassmen, who were relying on on-campus housing, are now left to find their own housing elsewhere for the semester, which caused some concern. 

First and most obviously, finding off-campus housing is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Now upperclassmen and some sophomores have only two months to find somewhere to live if they plan on returning to campus — and many clearly were, as they had originally signed up for on-campus housing. Though AU has an off-campus housing portal, many of the options are pricey and often involve a significant commute, unlike any dorm, and this commute could potentially risk further exposure to COVID-19. Moreover, there’s a limited amount of spaces, spaces that students who never planned to live on campus have already started to apply for. This plan has left many students, especially low-income students, on their own. 

While students do have the option to take classes fully online to avoid returning to campus, many will likely not want to due to the fact that AU is still charging full tuition for the fall semester. Online options are important now and will always be important to accommodate students with disabilities, but for right now, the school cannot expect us to pay the same prices for a semester that’s predominantly virtual.

Being online means students will not have access to the same equipment and experiences that they would under normal circumstances. Right now, online learning is important for reducing the spread of the coronavirus, but it’s also fundamentally different. Saying that it’s the “same quality of education” over and over, as AU is doing, ignores the reality of the situation. It ignores the fact that students are not getting access to the same kind of experiential learning, and the fact that there are students who don’t cope well with the relatively unstructured nature of online instruction. 

AU is not alone in taking a hybrid approach to the semester. Catholic University appears to be planning on a partially online and partially in-person semester, and Georgetown is entertaining a number of options, ranging from fully online to normal dorm occupancy with hybrid classes. George Washington University, on the other hand, is planning on returning to in-person instruction, and will still allow for double-occupancy rooms, though all bunk beds have been removed. It’s difficult to determine which plan will be the most effective, since they all come with struggles. Though none have announced any tuition changes, it seems unlikely: None of the schools refunded tuition for last semester. 

Examining the plans of each university is complicated and requires us to balance the need for safety with effective learning. I lean more toward the safety side of this argument, and I do commend AU for laying out a plan that allows for better social distancing than other schools. Allowing students to live together at similar density levels as a normal semester on campus seems like a risk on GW’s part, one that could endanger the ability of everyone to attend even hybrid classes. But AU’s implementation was poorly executed, and it has left many students lost during an already stressful time. 

Asking students to pay full tuition and find their own housing during a pandemic is ridiculous, and AU is not the only school at fault. The University and any other universities moving to online or hybrid instruction for the semester must reduce tuition for next semester and do more to help students, especially those from low-income households, find housing and deal with the changes this upcoming semester has in store. 

Lauren Patetta is a senior in the School of Communication and an assistant editor for the opinion section.

lpatetta@theeagleonline.com

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