As college classes have been forced to switch to online or hybrid instruction during the pandemic, many University of New Mexico students have called for lowered tuition in response to a perceived decrease in the quality of online education.
An online petition demanding a reduction of tuition has garnered more than 4,000 signatures and has spread throughout the UNM community.
Students at campuses across the country have been making similar demands. According to Inside Higher Ed, students at University of California campuses and the University of Chicago have called for a reduction in tuition, while students at Miami and Drexel Universities have filed a class action lawsuit for tuition refunds.
Tuition is the cost associated with taking college courses, and it's often calculated per credit hour. UNM’s current tuition rate for a full academic year is $8,863 for in-state students and $24,500 for non-residents.
Ava Yelton, the creator of the petition, said she has been struggling to cover her living and school expenses and believes that online classes aren’t worth the same tuition as in-person classes.
“I am a student that pays for everything on my own, and I know that there are several in the same boat as me,” Yelton said. “I just don’t want my peers to miss out on their education because of the choices of our UNM representatives.”
The purpose of the petition is to show UNM and ASUNM officials that many in the student body think that it is unethical to raise tuition rates during the current global upheaval and public health crisis.
“After months of mass unemployment, it’s crazy to think that UNM would expect students to pay the same amount of money — or more — for online/hybrid courses.” Yelton said.
She wasn’t surprised that the petition gained as much traction as it has, saying that the issue is one that students across the United States are dealing with.
“I’m so proud of how much support has been raised to this petition,” Yelton said. “UNM students have banded together and spread the word so quickly. This petition received well over 3,000 signatures in just a few days.”
However, it seems as if the movement will fall on deaf ears, as ASUNM President Mia Amin said that the University is not likely to cut tuition, but instead will look at “creative solutions” to UNM’s current financial crisis.
“UNM’s main campus is facing a $20 million budget cut from the State of New Mexico for the 2021 fiscal year,” Amin said in a statement to the Daily Lobo.
Amin also said that ASUNM would be looking to the University Budget Leadership Team and ASUNM senators to address the issue.
“Historically, college has always catered to students of higher social status and of greater financial income. Increasing tuition is going to put the education of SEVERAL students on hold,” Yelton said in response to the statement.
Yelton also cited that less money would be spent on electricity, programs, sports and events that the University normally holds.
“I understand that it is easier said than done, but ASUNM is failing to recognize that students — and parents of students — are struggling to pay bills and rent,” Yelton said. “Increasing tuition is completely unethical, considering the decrease in resources UNM will be providing.”
Students who signed the petition and left comments online cited poor learning environments in online classes compared to their in-person counterparts, along with the struggles that many are having due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If classes aren’t offered to their complete potential, I and many of my classmates are in some ways incapable of comprehending knowledge to our full and complete potential.,” said Bianca Cole after signing the petition.
Other students also highlighted their own caregiving responsibilities as contributing to their financial hardships.
“Almost all my friends had to drop out this semester because they couldn't afford living and tuition,” petition signee Sarah Skinner said. “The fact that they had to make the choice between going home to care for their families and being able to pay the rest of their tuition right now is insane.”
Yelton said her next steps are to talk to Amin and to UNM President Garnett Stokes, while continuing to circulate the petition to garner more support.
“This petition is gaining more and more signatures as the days go by. At this point, I think our voices and needs are undeniable and unavoidable,” Yelton said.
Yelton also sent an email to Amin, which was posted on her Twitter profile.
“You represent the students of UNM,” Yelton’s post read. “Students are struggling to live and eat in these times — they do not deserve to have to put their goals on hold because of a raise in tuition.”
“Lowering the tuition for a single semester, during mass unemployment and a time of no in-person instruction is the only right answer.”
Spencer Butler is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48