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Universities face increased costs as students call for lower tuition amid online learning

COVID-19 has changed the way Texas Woman’s University students are receiving education, with just 30% of classes face-to-face or hybrid this semester. Since the coronavirus began, TWU students have been adapting to a new normal with online learning, but administrators say the university has also taken a hit.

“The pandemic has cost us $9.3 million in additional expenditures, and $11 million in lost revenue,” Jason Tomlinson, vice president for finance and administration, said.

The financial cost of online education is more expensive than face-to-face classes. On average, there’s been a 335% increase in spending on online education, according to an EdTech report.

This warrants students to pay full-price even with limited in-person classes. The money the university receives is grouped together as part of a consolidated operating budget which the university uses.

“Even if we went on all online, it doesn’t change the fact that the buildings are still here, you still have to pay utilities, you still have to pay pieces,” Tomlinson said. “Because [the university] made this change [transitioning to online classes], doesn’t mean you still don’t have certain expenditures.”

But students have voiced concerns about not receiving face-to-face classes while paying around the same amount for tuition compared to pre-COVID-19 times.

TWU student Chanel VanHook said she has experienced an increase in her tuition while having four out of five classes online, referring to a 2.5% tuition increase the Board of Regents approved in February, which took effect this semester. 

Pursuing her degree in political science with legal emphasis and minoring in Spanish, VanHook is a full-time student. VanHook said her frustration is partly because she is virtually teaching herself through online videos and rather than receiving in-person instruction from professors. 

“Watching YouTube videos and recorded lectures is not what I signed up for, and it is extremely unsatisfactory that professors are not required to hold at least optional synchronous lessons once a week for those who can attend,” VanHook said. “They clearly have the time, because they are recording lectures to post. So, in my opinion, TWU should be holding professors to a much higher standard this semester, as they had all summer to plan for what was inevitably an online-centric semester. 

“I am but one student of course, but a perusal of Twitter clearly reveals many other TWU students feel the same.”

Other students argued they feel that the educational value of learning has declined, and tuition should decrease as a result. But, Tomlinson said, it’s not that simple.

“The only problem with that conversation is once again, it’s [the university] kind of like an ecosystem,” Tomlinson said. “If you pull out a piece, you’ve got to figure out where to balance that off someplace.”

Texas also requires universities to itemize student bills, which allows students to be more knowledgeable in what they are paying for, Tomlinson said. 

Moving toward more online learning also means students may require expanded access to technology. The university implemented a new program in October that allows students to check out laptops for short and long-term use from kiosks in the student union and library, and has also incurred the cost for cleaning measures due to COVID-19 such as masks, plexiglass shields, and clinics, Tomlinson said. 

The new cleaning standards TWU has implemented will likely stay in place long-term, which means higher costs, Tomlinson said. Though the future amid COVID-19 remains uncertain, Tomlinson said the university is seeking to balance face-to-face, hybrid and online education to best serve students.

Deanna West can be reached at

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