Mark Leib pays out-of-state tuition for his daughter, an incoming senior from Los Angeles, to attend IU. He's looking for help from IU to pay for his daughter’s two online summer courses — six credits — as his work in the live music industry has been paused amid the coronavirus pandemic.
So he wrote to IU President Michael McRobbie’s office April 10 to ask about cutting out-of-state tuition completely this summer and partially for the academic year given the financial hardship families are facing.
“It would be the olive branch most parents are looking for,” Leib wrote.
Leib is one of many parents and students across the country who are asking universities for tuition changes or refunds. Class action lawsuits have been filed against at least five institutions for refunds on spring semester tuition and fees, according to Inside Higher Ed.
With students off campus, Leib said he doesn’t see a difference between his daughter attending classes from California and others taking classes in Indiana. He thinks the school should consider waiving out-of-state tuition for the summer sessions, which start May 12.
On the phone with the bursar’s office last week, Leib was told the office has been inundated with calls about concerns similar to his. The office has received 40-50 questions per week about tuition, and it estimates that makes up 8-10% of its total call volume, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said in an email.
The in-state and out-of-state tuition distinctions are the same regardless of whether classes are in person or online, Carney said. Out-of-state tuition is more expensive because IU receives funding from the state , which comes from Indiana taxpayers.
“It would not be fair for us to provide essentially Indiana taxpayer money in subsidizing out-of-state tuition,” Carney said.
But out-of-state tuition this summer will be less than it was in 2019, he said. IU has combined summer tuition and mandatory fees to create a per-credit cost, and mandatory fees have decreased by 20%. If students take 12 or more credit hours throughout the summer, they’ll receive a 10% discount.
In addition, the university has removed the late scheduling fee and late registration fee for summer classes to give students more flexibility. The late schedule fee would usually charge students $8.60 per day to adjust their schedule two days or more after their initial registration, and the late registration fee can charge students at least $60.
In 2019, 56.3% of IU’s freshman class was Indiana residents, according to IU’s Office of Admissions. The remainder were from other U.S. states or other countries.
Daniel Hickey, a professor with the Learning Sciences program in IU’s School of Education, said there's no reason that tuition would decrease when classes move online. In fact, there are several arguments why costs would rise to account for added resources such as instructor support and educational consultants.
“Doing high-quality online teaching is a lot of work,” Hickey said.
Comparing IU’s tuition to the costs of universities that typically operate completely online would also be misguided, Hickey said. Many of these schools would be more accurately called “distance learning” rather than “online learning,” he said.
Distance learning programs are usually not interactive — they wouldn’t use Zoom meetings, online discussion forums or feedback from classmates and instructors like IU courses, he said.
Because the transition was forced toward the end of the semester, the educational experience now will likely differ from online learning during the summer, when the course format will be consistent from the start, Hickey said.
“It’s a pretty big shift,” he said. “We have to be patient.”
Public colleges nationwide are encountering financial difficulties as the coronavirus pandemic forces the U.S. into a recession. IU may request a $600 million to $1 billion line of credit in case of a revenue delay. The university will also receive more than $60 million Department of Education through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Still, Leib said he feels the school’s concessions seem like a Band-Aid on a wound.
The bursar’s office told him to take out a loan to pay for his daughter’s summer tuition. If nothing changes, he doesn’t think he’ll have another choice.
“I’m not looking for more debt,” Leib said. “I’m looking for some forgiveness.”
Editor's Note: The graphic in this story was updated to reflect a change in tuition costs for summer 2020.