OPINION: 2021-22 tuition freeze leaves graduating seniors out in the cold

By Maggie Loft | February 8, 2021 11:00am
Maggie Loft is a senior secondary education and history major. Photo courtesy of Maggie Loft.

On February 2, Fr. Mark Poorman released an email to all University of Portland community members titled “Important Information Regarding Fall 2021, Summer Session, Tuition and Academic Fees, and the University’s Commencement Exercises,” in which he announced that tuition and academic fees will remain unchanged for the 2021-22 academic year. This decision provides some long-awaited financial relief to many UP students and families, however, it has so far been unaddressed that this decision neglects 25% of the current student population: graduating seniors.

While I believe it is a step in the right direction that UP is making financial considerations in the face of the pandemic, in many ways this decision seems to have come a year too late. A 2021-22 tuition freeze and the stated commitment “to making a UP education as affordable as possible” indicates the UP administration is acknowledging that raising tuition during a pandemic is wrong, yet that is exactly what happened for the 2020-21 academic year.

The future does remain uncertain and given the year we have had, we know that anything is possible. However, there is a level of hope and progress that exists for next year that we did not experience coming into this year. Oregon has delivered close to half a million vaccines, and as of February 3, the number of administered doses of vaccine has surpassed the total number of reported COVID cases around the world. It seems a return to normal is on the way, as was echoed by Fr. Poorman when he stated “we are confident that we can safely and effectively return to primarily in-person operations in the fall.” It seems inconsistent that UP is offering a tuition freeze for a year that they are confident will be mostly in-person while offering nothing for a year that has and will be fully online.

To me, a more logical course of action would have been to offer a reimbursement for the amount that tuition and fees were raised from the 2019-20 academic year to the 2020-21 academic year. At a minimum, students saw their tuition rise by 4.1% between these two years — despite ending the 2019-20 year and starting the 2020-21 year during the height of the pandemic, with no vaccine in sight. Many students, seniors, in particular, saw their tuition rise even more due to the “professional tuition fees” that accompany Business, Economics, Computer Science, Undergraduate Education, Engineering and Nursing courses. Such a reimbursement could have been conveniently deducted from our Spring 2021 invoices, as payment was due just a couple of weeks ago.

The main difference between offering reimbursement for the tuition rise and deciding to implement an upcoming tuition freeze is that the first benefits all those currently attending UP, while the latter benefits incoming freshmen in place of graduating seniors. From a financial standpoint, this benefits the university and is a smart marketing strategy as well. Our graduating seniors have already paid for our last semester of college, and this decision will appeal to incoming and prospective students and families that have yet to begin their payments to UP. However, blatantly disregarding students who have called UP home for the last four years in favor of financial benefit does not sound like the UP that I know and love.

I want to clarify that I am not upset that incoming freshmen will get to benefit from this tuition freeze. As someone who works in Admissions and has talked to prospective students and families every single day since the pandemic began, I know that these students have had a difficult senior year of high school and that many families are facing financial hardships that have made the college search and decision process extra stressful. However, it is undeniably frustrating that UP has made a decision that benefits prospective Pilots who have a high chance of having a relatively normal college experience, while disregarding current Pilots who have already lost 1.5 years of their college experience that they will never get back.

I also want to include the disclaimer that I have focused mostly on graduating seniors throughout this piece, the reason being it is the largest group negatively impacted by this decision and it is also the group I am a part of. That being said, I understand that anyone who currently attends UP and will not attend next year for various reasons (including graduating, transferring, withdrawing, or completing a graduate program) is missing out on this opportunity for financial relief that they absolutely deserve, and I believe that needs to be changed.

For this 2020-21 academic year, UP claimed they were unable to provide any sort of relief due to the university’s financial hardship, despite fully online class and the closure of facilities. Many members of the UP community, myself included, were understandably unhappy with this decision as many of us have faced considerable financial hardship ourselves and also were quite frankly not receiving the same quality of education or access to resources at UP as we were pre-pandemic.

This upcoming tuition freeze appears to be UP’s attempt to rectify the situation, and it most certainly is a step in the right direction. However if UP truly wants to provide financial relief in the face of COVID, it is important that the financial relief benefits all UP students who have been impacted by the pandemic and online school. It would be unacceptable for UP to move forward with this plan without making a consideration that acknowledges the 1,000+ students who were denied any form of financial relief for what has been an incredibly challenging year.

Maggie Loft is a senior secondary education and history major. She can be reached at loft21@up.edu.

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