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August 19, 2020

A Message from Lehman College President Daniel Lemons

The Tuition and Fees Value Proposition in the Time of COVID-19: Should I Get a Refund?

Many students and their families are deciding whether they should register for classes this fall term at colleges and universities where campus life will be curtailed and most, if not all, classes will be taught online. They are wondering if the cost is worth it. Here is a way they can consider that decision.

First and foremost, as always, the Lehman College faculty, staff and administration is continuing its commitment to keep everyone safe, while providing the highest caliber education at a very affordable cost.

Is There Enough Value for My Money?

You may wonder if the quality of the courses and student support is worth the tuition when almost all classes are online and many services are virtual. Will learning be less than is desired, will good grades be more difficult to earn, will students be able to access the services they need?

A bit of background might help. At Lehman College, over 25 percent of our courses were offered online or partially online before COVID-19, and over 60 percent of our students had already taken at least one online course at the college. Although that is not the same as taking all of your courses on campus, it shows that up to now a majority of students have concluded it is worth paying the same tuition for online as for in-person courses.

For a number of years, we have worked intensively to train faculty members to teach courses online, and since the past spring, that training has greatly expanded. Over 500 faculty members taught in an online format before March of this year. Since then, many more faculty members have been trained, and are preparing high quality online courses for the fall term. Because of training and a strong professional support team in the Office of Online Education and IT, we think the value of these courses is high for all students, and we strongly encourage them to enroll to maintain their academic progress. The academic experience will be different, but the learning value will still be there.

It's very important to remember that delaying graduation has a real cost. Every year that graduation is postponed, represents a financial loss from the missed extra income that a college degree helps you earn. And for some students, delaying taking classes for a term can lead to years on hold before returning to school. That's not a risk anyone should take. It's just too costly in the long run.

Costs of Providing Online vs. In-person Education

Another way to think about the value of what you receive as an online student is what it costs the college to provide your education. How different are those costs when instruction is online and not in-person? The amount students pay for a year of college varies enormously between colleges. At Lehman College, the cost for the college to teach one full-time student for an academic year is around $16,000 depending on how it is calculated. At some elite private universities that cost can be as high as $170,000 per year, around ten times as much. In either case, tuition covers only part of the cost, and few students pay full tuition. At CUNY, the most any full-time student pays for a year is $6,930--not a small amount, but well under half of the total cost to the college of providing that year of education. Across the entire CUNY system, undergraduate and graduate students' tuition covers just 20 percent of the university budget. The state, city and federal governments pay most of the cost, and private funds cover the rest. Two-thirds of CUNY students pay no tuition at all.

But, does it cost less to teach students mostly online? It seems like it might, since there is less facilities maintenance and cleaning, lower energy costs when buildings don't need to be heated or cooled, extracurricular activities don't add to costs. There are some savings in there, but they are not large. Buildings have to be heated and cooled to keep them from deteriorating, cleaning for areas that are used is much more intensive during the pandemic, and routine maintenance is still needed. Most importantly, personnel costs are 91 percent of the budget, and we need the same number of people to operate the college no matter how classes are offered. In short, the costs don't differ appreciably between offering online and in-person class.

Developing online courses requires creating new digital materials and learning how to manage a class online. When faculty members train for online course delivery and then develop their online courses, they are compensated for their effort and that adds extra costs. We are working hard to provide enhanced services such as technology support of critical services; more computer hardware is needed for faculty and staff to support online learning; loaner computers and peripheral devices are distributed; we license databases and software systems for online teaching and delivery; expanded virtual career services, and mental health support for students in need. Together these added costs can exceed any savings from having classes off campus, so the bottom line is that the college is spending more money to offer its curriculum online. Even with CARES Act funding this is still the case.

Another aspect of cost to you as a student are the fees you pay. Do they serve you if you are not on campus? Your fees pay for the tech support for students, student government, health services, veterans affairs, and many others, almost all of which continue virtually when classes are almost all online.

How Does It All Add Up?

So, whether you look at the value to you as a student, or the cost to the college of offering you the classes you need, not enrolling this fall doesn't make sense, and tuition and fee reductions would just reduce what the college is able to offer you to help you succeed—fewer class options, less digital support and reduced virtual student services.

Studying mostly online is different--your way of being a student and your instructors' way of teaching are different. Different, but still valuable and able to keep you moving toward your degree. We are committed to sustaining the quality of your education with among the most affordable tuitions and lowest fees in the nation. Thank your for continuing your education at Lehman—keeping the momentum of your education while maintaining your health and safety is our top priority.

Daniel Lemons

Previous messages from President Lemons can be found here.