- EphBlog - http://ephblog.com -

Bare-Bones Obligation

From the Wall Street Journal:

Two Separate Questions

There’s an important distinction between what universities are obligated to provide their students and what students paid for when we enrolled. The cost of college consists of room and board, tuition and other fees. Handling room and board is straightforward because universities’ obligations and students’ expectations are aligned. When we eat the school’s meals and use its dorms, we’re getting what we paid for. If we’ve been sent home, then we’re not, and we’re entitled to a partial refund.

Tuition is more challenging. “Payment for instruction,” its definition, only captures a university’s bare-bones obligation. Students and schools alike recognize that the true value of college extends far beyond formal teaching in classrooms. Flip through any college brochure, and you’ll find an extensive guide to the opportunities that make families willing to stomach the eye-popping cost.

The life lessons we learn through sports, clubs and other campus groups; the social bonds we form with our peers; the education we receive from classmates who come from different backgrounds and expose us to new perspectives. Tuition payments don’t require colleges to provide these opportunities, but the schools promise them and students expect them as part of the package.

Remote learning lets universities fulfill their basic obligations to students. They’re still providing the best instruction possible given the circumstances, and therefore don’t owe students a refund for tuition. But make no mistake—students are not getting what we paid for.

—Mark Bissell, Williams College, economics and computer science