As Harvard transitions to remote instruction due to the coronavirus crisis, graduate students across the University’s 12 schools have advocated for tuition reimbursements to compensate for the in-person components of their education they can no longer access.
Harvard announced the University would switch to online classes and told affiliates to vacate campus Mar. 10 to help mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak. While Harvard decided to prorate room and board costs for all students leaving campus, it will not offer refund tuition as long as online instruction continues throughout the semester, according to the University’s website.
Still, many Harvard graduate students say they continue to have concerns about tuition reimbursements. Harvard Graduate Council president and School of Public Health student Bryan O. Buckley said students frequently raised tuition concerns on a Google sheet run by the newly-formed student group Students vs. Pandemics, and that student government presidents at the graduate schools said tuition reimbursement was on “top line” for many of their constituents.
Buckley — who said he has met with University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76’s office to discuss this issue — cited changes in quality of education, future economic insecurity in light of the pandemic, and inability to cultivate a professional network on campus as reasons why students are pushing for reimbursements.
“People are still going to get their degrees one way or another,” Buckley said. “But I also think one of the rich parts about being at Harvard [...] is also the social capital that you're able to make while here at Harvard. The connections that you're able to make, the people that you're able to see, a lot of the programming that you're able to attend.”
Law School student government co-presidents Princess Daisy M.A. Akita ’15 and Daniel M. Egel-Weiss also said they believe there are “a lot of opportunities that are lost” for Law School students when they are not physically on campus. Egel-Weiss cited the Law School’s lunch talk series, as well as access to the gym and free Wi-Fi.
“We're not looking for a full refund,” Egel-Weiss said. “We were just looking for compensation for those items that we no longer have access to.”
Akita also said students understand the process of reimbursement would be complicated by the fact that Law School students only pay one tuition bill that includes all services.
“It's really hard to delineate which pools of funds go to which specific provision that the Law School provides to students,” she said. “With this lack of clarity, it's really hard to know whether we should be advocating for ‘X percent of tuition’ based on the rollback of some of the things that students are accustomed to receiving from the institution.”
On the other hand, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine Student Council President LaShyra T. Nolen said students at the Medical School have overall been “very satisfied” with the response of the HMS administration.
“Even though the quality of our education might be impacted by the fact that we aren't able to be physically present to do lab projects and to work with PIs, I think that our professors have been readily available to answer any questions and to engage with us and to make sure that our quality of education hasn't been detrimentally impacted by these major changes,” Nolen said.
Harvard Kennedy School student government president Charlene A. Wang said Kennedy School students are interested in tuition reimbursements to help alleviate travel expenses students who are taking care of elderly parents incur, rent prices for students who cannot transfer their leasing agreements, and economic pressures on international students.
“Since we have a significant international student population, there are students who are coming from countries where their currencies are devaluing, so it's also important for them to get some sort of reduction in tuition this year,” Wang said. “It sounds like for students that even just $1,000 or something would make a big difference.”
In addition to tuition reimbursements, Law School and Kennedy School students are also concerned about extending University health insurance coverage for graduating students past July 31. Since states such as New York and Massachusetts have postponed the bar exam due to the coronavirus pandemic, Akita and Egel-Weiss said graduating law students may not be able to work after leaving Harvard, potentially leaving them without health insurance coverage.
“If the health insurance is ending on the 31st of July, then if they don't have a job until much later in the fall, then they're not covered insurance-wise,” Akita said. “In a pandemic, that is really alarming.”
Egel-Weiss added that the possibility of post-graduation job insecurity also prompted students’ push for tuition reimbursements.
“While we understand that there are larger issues in society right now than these refunds, those issues may impact students economically,” Egel-Weiss said. “We want to make sure that we're looking out for our students for a whole new world, in light of the pandemic.”