Editorial | The Columbia tuition strike isn’t surprising

Students+at+Columbia+University+began+a+tuition+strike+last+Friday%2C+the+day+that+tuition+for+the+spring+semester+was+due.+The+push+for+lower+tuition+rates+due+to+the+pandemic+have+become+increasingly+common+over+the+past+year%2C+affecting+many+more+universities+other+than+just+Columbia.+

Caela Go | Assistant Visual Editor

Students at Columbia University began a tuition strike last Friday, the day that tuition for the spring semester was due. The push for lower tuition rates due to the pandemic have become increasingly common over the past year, affecting many more universities other than just Columbia.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Students at Columbia University began a tuition strike on Jan. 22, the same day that tuition for their spring semester was due.

Following an almost entirely virtual fall semester with tuition rates of nearly $60,000, Columbia students issued a list of demands, including but not limited to asking the university to reduce students’ tuition by 10%. These kinds of demands and, more generally, the push for lower tuition rates due to the pandemic and the consequent remote learning adaptations have become increasingly common over the past year, affecting many universities other than just Columbia.

The demand for Columbia to lower tuition rates is actually very reasonable, and no one should be surprised by the strike. In fact, a strike of this caliber has been a long time coming due to all the ways Columbia, among various higher education institutions, has failed its students since the pandemic’s start.

Columbia’s students included other demands in their petition, such as asking the university to fully divest from fossil fuels and to stop expanding into the surrounding area of West Harlem. Columbia issued a statement to address these requests, and the demands regarding tuition.

“This is a moment when an active reappraisal of the status quo is understandable, and we expect nothing less from our students,” a university spokesperson said. “Their voices are heard by Columbia’s leadership, and their views on strengthening the university are welcomed.”

If students’ views on “strengthening the university” were truly welcomed, we think it’s safe to say that the administration would take action toward meeting these demands. Students deserve to have their financial burden lessened, especially as many college students have not been eligible to receive any form of government stimulus checks, nor have they been able to work as much as they might have pre-pandemic.

It isn’t at all unreasonable for students to ask universities to lower tuition rates when all learning is taking place remotely. Columbia students are severely limited in their ability to live on campus and attend in-person classes, which, in turn, limits their access to different resources at the university. It’s hard to argue that they should continue to pay the same price that they did in pre-pandemic times when they could regularly access various university resources and amenities.

The University of Chicago saw about 200 students go on a similar tuition strike last spring, demanding that the university reduce tuition by 50% in the wake of classes moving to an online format. The University of Chicago responded by issuing a tuition freeze — meaning that tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year would not increase — but refused to cut tuition in half.

As the current strike at Columbia is far larger than the strike at UChicago, there is a chance that they will see more substantial results. Additionally, the push for Columbia to lower tuition by 10% is much less than the demands the UChicago students made, and even less than previous demands at Columbia, as graduate students in the Teachers College at Columbia petitioned for a 30% discount rate for the fall semester of 2020.

It’s time for universities to recognize the legitimacy of these complaints and commit to lessening the financial stresses students are facing — even if that means they lose profits.

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