Graduate student drafts letter to administrators seeking tuition changes

Photo by Madeleine Newton

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the Lewis & Clark community, Nadeen Ezzeddine ’22, a student at the Graduate School of Education and Counseling, wrote a letter asking administrators to reconsider financial burdens on students. The letter, signed by over 150 students and alumni, was sent to President Wim Wiewel and the deans of the three campuses on April 13.

The letter’s signatories urge LC to reconsider the campus-wide tuition increases for the 2020-21 academic term, which trustees approved in Nov. 2019. Additionally, the letter asks administrators to discount tuition for all future terms that use remote learning, which include summer classes.

Ezzeddine’s letter is the latest initiative in a recent wave of student activism at LC. In the past few weeks, student-run petitions have advocated for a credit/no credit option in classes and partial refunds for all overseas programs. LC is now offering a credit/no credit option for students but participants of Spring 2020 overseas programs will not be refunded tuition or fees. 

On top of Ezzeddine’s letter, a petition to stop the tuition increase and permit a markdown for future online terms is circulating through MoveOn, a platform to organize and distribute petitions.

In her letter, Ezzeddine explains that she is using her writing as a way of asking for help. Many emails sent by LC personnel have encouraged students to reach out if they are facing difficulties.

“While President Wiewel’s frequent emails to students have been optimistic and calming during these strange times where the news is mostly anxiety-inducing, Lewis & Clark students feel as though the College could be doing more to support its students,” the letter states. “Our President Wiewel’s letter on April 9, 2020 states that if we are struggling, to reach out. This is us reaching out.”

Ezzeddine describes the need for lowered tuition as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.

“While I completely understand that this tuition increase was a scheduled one, previous tuition increases did not occur during a pandemic that has greatly affected students financially, mentally, and socially,” Ezzeddine said via email. “Students have been affected by this pandemic to the point where they no longer have jobs, are financially insecure, and need assistance in paying for their college tuition now that education seems like a luxury.”

In an April 23 email to the LC community, President Wiewel recognized that some students are frustrated over financial decisions made by the college. Wiewel also confirmed that tuition will increase despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

“I know that some of our students and families are angry because we did not refund as much money as they’d hoped for, or because tuition will increase in spite of the hardship they are enduring,” Wiewel said. “Fortunately we have emergency funds available to help students with extra expenses caused by the pandemic.”

LC established the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency Response Fund to support struggling students and assist the college with unexpected incurred costs. Due to the recently passed CARES Act, LC will receive around $900,000 in federal aid for students. Additionally, private donations designated for coronavirus relief have surpassed $60,000. Applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis starting on May 1.

Currently, CAS Summer Session I courses, held between May 18 and June 26, will take place online. LC has not determined if CAS Summer Session II or the Fall 2020 semester will employ remote learning. However, in his April 23 email, Wiewel said that LC “(expects) to be open and holding in-person classes this fall,” though some social distancing measures may need to be used.

In an April 20 email to graduate students who have raised questions about future tuition, Scott Fletcher, dean of the graduate school, stated that tuition for future academic terms will not change. According to Fletcher, tuition must remain at its current levels to “(provide students) the very highest quality preparation for the professions (they) are entering and to sustain the faculty and staff who provide this experience.”

Ezzeddine’s letter discusses the financial impact of COVID-19 on first-generation students and how tuition changes would follow LC’s community values.

“Lewis & Clark should … consider how first-generation students, many of whom are people of color, are affected by this pandemic as many first-generation students also play a dual role in supporting their families financially on top of being students,” the letter states. “Not helping students through a partial tuition remission or tuition reduction feels as if the College is choosing to completely ignore the hardships that these students are facing. It is also a direct contradiction to the social justice values that Lewis & Clark routinely espouses to have.”

In Nov. 2019, the LC Board of Trustees approved a 4.75% increase in tuition and an overall 4% increase in the total cost of attendance for the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS). For the first time ever, CAS’s cost of attendance will exceed $70,000 during the 2020-21 academic year. Students at the graduate school and law school will also see cost increases for the 2020-21 year.

According to the Office of Institutional Research, LC has increased the cost of attendance for at least 12 consecutive years. Between 2008 and 2018, the average rise in tuition was 4.24% per year while the average total cost per year climbed by 4.06%, all on the undergraduate campus. As of May 2019, LC has an endowment valued at $238 million.

Numerous institutions in Oregon have reassessed financial aid and fees in the time of COVID-19. The University of Oregon (UO) recently established the Students in Crisis Fund by committing $1 million in philanthropic donations “to help students who are dealing with serious financial disruptions.” UO has also suspended interest and billing fees on overdue student accounts through June. 

UO, Oregon State University and Portland State University have decided to reduce or refund many student fees. However, these public universities will not alter their current tuition structures for the Spring 2020 term and have not indicated cost changes for future academic terms.

As of April 24, administrators have not replied to questions sent by The Pioneer Log.

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