As Colleges Move Classes Online, Families Rebel Against the Cost

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Only students who can demonstrate financial need will get help, he is telling families. “Tuition really reflects our cost of operation, and that cost has not only not diminished but has greatly increased.”

A survey by the American Council on Education estimated that reopening this fall would add 10 percent to a college’s regular operating expenses, costing the country’s 5,000 some colleges and universities a total of $70 billion.

“For institutions,” said Mr. Hartle, who lobbies for the council, “this is a perfect storm.”

Students are feeling tempest tossed, too.

Temple sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab, founder of the university’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, said the organization has been “bombarded” with pleas for help from students who can’t cover their rent and don’t know how to apply for food stamps. At least a third of students had lost jobs because of the pandemic by May, according to the center.

Such situations, Ms. Goldrick-Rab said, are particularly risky because they often prompt students to take on second or third jobs or to become distracted, which in turn imperils financial aid that can be revoked if their grades fall.

Laurie Koehler, vice president for enrollment strategy at Ithaca College, said about one in six students reported in a just-completed survey that the pandemic had significantly hurt their ability to continue their studies. At Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., the school’s president, Alison Byerly, said she expects requests for additional financial aid to grow by up to 15 percent this year.

But the shift online also has accelerated fundamental questions about the future of higher education, said the director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, Marguerite Roza.

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