Anticipating the unprecedented fall semester, coupled with high financial tensions due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 10 Fordham students created a petition to request that the university lower its tuition cost for students taking online courses and to demand that their voices be heard. The petition was emailed to approximately 80 Fordham administrators and Board of Trustees members.
“Though we pushed out this petition at the end of the summer, it has come after many calls, emails and townhalls with Fordham since March,” one of the petition organizers, Tess Gutenbrunner, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’21, said. “The support we have received from students and families has been overwhelming.”
The principal organizer of the petition, Diane Greg-Uanseru, FCLC ’21, said she created the petition after being disappointed in Fordham’s financial response to the fall semester. She said raising tuition during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic neglects the disproportionate impact that it will have on students of color.
Because of systemic health and social inequities, such as poverty, inadequate access to health care and occupation in essential work environments, Black and brown communities are at a higher risk of becoming infected by and suffering from the virus.
“They support BLM but raise tuition which would mainly affect black and brown students,” Greg-Uanseru told The Observer.
The petition outlines a list of demands, including a 35% reduction in tuition costs for online students and the removal of the 3.3% tuition rate increase. With the applied reduction, the new price of tuition would be reduced from $54,730 to $35,575 per academic year.
“I looked at what we would be missing as students online: for example, clubs, facilities, etc. … we thought 35% was a fair reduction as we are still getting classes but not the same quality,” Greg-Uanseru explained.
The full cost of tuition covers colleges’ expenses from operating facilities, such as labs, classrooms, libraries and performing arts spaces, as well as from paying the salaries and benefits of faculty and staff members. With colleges going online for the fall, many students said that they think tuition should be lowered since they won’t be able to take advantage of everything the college offers in-person.
Natural science courses, which charge a lab fee, conducted online will still charge students even though they are unable to use the facility. The petition demands a removal of this lab fee for all science and language courses conducted online.
“We did not agree to the proposed plan for the Fall semester, and therefore should not be expected to uphold the same financial commitment.” Student Petition
Since Fordham is employing a hybrid model for the fall semester, some students will have the opportunity to take advantage of these facilities and resources, and Fordham will maintain its general operating budget.
At FCLC, 484 classes have been declared operating fully online for the fall. There is not yet full data on the modalities of every course, according to Laura Auricchio, dean of FCLC. Although, certain classes, such as Dance Technique, are confirmed to be offered only in-person. “My office is working closely with any student who has reached out to request a change in classes, whether they are seeking a different modality or looking to change courses for other reasons,” Auricchio said.
During the transition to online instruction in the spring 2020 semester, Fordham took on increased costs for technology to support online courses; these costs will further increase, as Fordham plans to improve its online learning resources for students in the fall 2020 semester.
“We did not agree to the proposed plan for the Fall semester, and therefore should not be expected to uphold the same financial commitment,” the petition states.
The petition further demands that the funds saved from Fordham planning to limit group events and postponing the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 should be allocated to supplement auxiliary costs used to offset the price of tuition.
The petition also asks that Fordham provide “a detailed and itemized list of how every penny of tuition money will be used.”
Generally, the net price that a student pays for tuition is less than the average published price for tuition and fees. The published price of tuition and fees at Fordham for a full-time student in 2019-20 is $54,730 per year. For a private institution such as Fordham University, the average net price for tuition and fees for the 2019-20 academic year was 60% of the published “sticker” price.
This net price is the sum of costs a student pays after receiving scholarships, federal or state grants, and aid, which are provided based on a person’s family income bracket.
The net tuition at Fordham University makes up 79.3% of the school’s budget, with the rest of the budget supplemented by housing, dining, bookstores, endowments, government grants and private donations.
Due to COVID-19, the university will most likely see a severe decrease in students paying for services such as housing and dining. However, the exact downturn in these numbers is not confirmed yet, according to Peter Feigenbaum, director of the Office of Institutional Research at Fordham University.
“Today, we are not asking for empathy; we are demanding action.” Tess Gutenbrunner, FCLC ’21
The petition acknowledges that tuition makes up a significant part of Fordham’s budget and demands that the university continues to pay staff and faculty fair wages even with a decrease in tuition price.
However, it also requests that the university imposes pay cuts on a sliding scale with the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., and the highest administrators receiving the greatest pay cuts.
“Tuition increases are being justified for maintaining Fordham’s economic well being, while no mentions have been made of pay cuts to those benefiting the most from high tuition,” the petition states.
In June, Fordham announced that tuition will be raised by 3.33% for the 2020-21 school year. The petition argues that this year’s increase exceeds “the usual rate of inflation for tuition.”
From 2019 to 2020, the rate of inflation decreased from 1.81% to 0.62%; in 2021, it is expected to increase to 2.24%. Colleges generally increase tuition to keep pace with the rate of inflation to pay for higher living and instructional costs.
Since 2010, Fordham’s tuition has been increasing by an average of 3.9% each year. However, the annual rate of inflation over the past 10 years has averaged only a 1.67% increase. Another reason for the high rate of tuition increases are state cuts in funding for higher education, but this rarely affects private institutions like Fordham.
When Fordham announced the tuition increase, another Fordham student had created a different petition in response, requesting Fordham to retract the 3.33% increase, given the tense financial climate. As of now, 615 students have signed that petition. Fordham has not taken any action in response to this petition’s demands.
Since the creation of the most recent petition to lower tuition for online students and retract the 3.33% increase, more than 300 students have signed. Gutenbrunner reported that of the roughly 80 administrators and Board of Trustees members emailed, none have responded to the petition.
The Observer reached out to the university regarding the petition and did not hear back at the time of publication.
“They need to respond, and they need to comply with our demands,” Gutenbrunner said. “The Observer asked us to have empathy for Fordham’s financial situation. Today, we are not asking for empathy; we are demanding action.”
“What is Fordham without its students? Nothing. Listen to us,” she said.