Montclair State students appeal for tuition refunds amid online learning
By ERIN ROLL
Montclair State University students are calling for the university to issue tuition discounts or refunds, as most classes will be conducted online and will not use most on-campus facilities.
Montclair State has reopened its campus, but only partially, for the fall semester.
For a full-time in-state undergraduate, tuition is $6,040 per semester, along with a $48 student government fee and $445 in “mandatory fees,” for a total of about $6,535.
For an out-of-state student, tuition is $10,020 per semester. Combined with the student government fee and the mandatory fees, the total tuition and fees are $10,515.
For part-time students who are taking fewer than 12 credit hours, tuition is $402 per semester for in-state students and $668 for out-of-state students.
Hailey Noecker and Jenna Jenkins are two of the students who have been appealing to the university for tuition refunds.
Noecker started a petition urging Montclair State to give students a refund. In the petition, she said she logged onto her student account and found that all seven of the classes she is taking this semester were moved online.
“I thoroughly do not believe that we should be paying full tuition to continue to take our classes remotely,” Noecker said in the petition. “Part of the thousands of dollars we pay each semester is for that in-person learning that so many students thrive on.
“If most students are not receiving that for most of their classes — let alone all of them — I see no reason why the full tuition amount is justified.”
The university has no intention of offering tuition discounts, university spokesman Andrew Mees said.
“There are several reasons for this,” Mees said. “First, every course counts the same toward graduation regardless of how it is delivered. The university also does not save money by delivering a course online because faculty are paid the same whether a course is online or in-person.
“Additionally, the university has spent more this year for online delivery, incurring added costs for technology and staff to support online learning.”
But Jenkins, a sophomore majoring in English, said a class that she needed to fulfill her major requirements had been deleted from her schedule without any advance notice. Even with that class cut from her schedule, she and others are still being charged tuition for a larger course load.
And Noecker, a junior majoring in family science, said some of the tuition goes to on-campus services that students no longer have access to such as a student government fee, which covers student activities.
Montclair State officials announced in July, as part of the reopening plan, that they would be freezing tuition rates for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“We have not raised tuition, fees and room and board charges this year,” Mees said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that over time, as the COVID-19 situation improves, we can make more face-to-face courses available.”
As of Sept. 14, the petition had 1,005 signatures, out of the target of 1,500.
Noecker and Jenkins said communication has also been a problem. Noecker said there was no notification that her classes were being moved online, while Jenkins said there was no notification that one of her classes was being cut from the schedule. Both said that the university has not been responsive to phone calls, emails or the petition.
“You can’t charge full price for less services. That is bait and switch!” wrote one petition signer.
In April, student Colin Keyes filed a class action lawsuit against the university asking for tuition refunds after the university shifted to all-online learning during the spring semester. The lawsuit stated that the online learning situation was inferior to the university’s in-person program, which students had paid for.
The suit alleges that the shift to remote has been detrimental to classes that require in-person instruction, including the filmmaking program that Keyes is enrolled in.
“The online learning options being offered to students are subpar in practically every aspect, from the lack of facilities, materials and access to faculty. The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education that plaintiff and the putative class members contracted and paid for,” the suit stated.
The case has not yet gone to trial.
Noecker said that students love the university and very much want to attend. But it is troubling that they are having to pay large sums of money for present circumstances.
Jenkins said she believed the university itself didn’t have a full sense of its reopening plan. “Honestly, I feel like it’s because they don’t know themselves,” Jenkins said.