Students Balk, Lawyers Talk

Currently, students at 25 different universities are suing for fees and tuition refunds. Students’ sentiments can generally be summized in the language of the Cornell students’ lawsuit: 

Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique. The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education the Plaintiff and the putative class members contracted and paid for.

Haynie v. Cornell University

With distance learning, social networking, spontaneous late-night existential discussions about life, romantic entanglements, adventures wandering around new locales unencumbered by curfews and parents’ watchfulness, vanished overnight. Students’ are disappointed. They are grieving. And, many are bitter.

Graduating college students are dismayed to be denied the pomp and circumstance celebrating a lifetime of efforts. Third year students are frustrated that cancelled internships mean less preparedness for jobs in a year. Second year students’ are distressed about the implementation of universal Pass/No Pass impacting their qualifications for admissions to an academic major. First year students are disgruntled to be ordered back to their childhood homes, just as they were gaining their first taste of a freedom they had anticipated throughout high school. 

Further fueling students’ dismay, many ask why they are paying the price, in their truncated college experiences, for what is often perceived as an illness that affects people over 50 years old. The “Ok, Boomer” sentiment is only becoming more acute, as Gen Z and their just older Millennial peers suffer economically just as they start their careers, while Boomers for the most part have retained their wealth in spite of a collapse in economic output that rivals The Great Depression of the 1930’s. 

The Washington Post, December 2019

Students, angry and believing that the university is unwilling to address their concerns have sought to air their grievances in the courtroom versus the classroom which they now believe is a more objective forum. University officials on the other hand have repeatedly stated that tuition and fees are justified, given the continued and rising costs of distance learning while maintaining the physical campus. The budding conflict between the customer of a university education, the student and their family, and the supplier, the university administrators and staff, risk a lessening of demand that could threaten the financial soundness of a number of universities throughout the country. 

The growing divide between generations, as well as between university officials and students may likely continue shifting sentiment about the value of a college education. Already students are considering a leave of absence for the fall semester if universities continue online distance learning, as the costs are disproportionate to the value they are receiving by continuing to attend college. Additionally, more high school seniors are considering gap years or substituting two year community college over enrolling in four year college. Yet, what other options will replace college, an experience that has been a rite of passage for the young to transition into a responsible adult that goes on to live a meaningful and hopefully less selfish existence?

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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