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While Emerson will be issuing partial credit for room and board charges for the spring semester due to circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, no tuition refunds will be issued, according to college officials.
On March 13, students were asked to vacate the college’s residence halls by March 20, just over two months before the semester was scheduled to end. Room and board for the 2020 spring semester varied by type of room, but ranged from $8,700 to $9,450, according to the college’s website.
The college announced the credit and refunds would be issued, but offered no specifics regarding how much the credit will be, when it will be issued, or how it will be issued. A tweet from the college about the decision stated more information will be available “within the next few days.” A March 20 email from President M. Lee Pelton said the Office of Student Accounts will follow up with students regarding credit “as soon as possible.” The email added that students who have been approved to stay on campus will be responsible for paying the standard room and board costs.
“The language was to reassure students and their families that the college recognizes that there are room and board charges for which they’ve already paid and that they did not live in the residence halls to the end of the semester, or use up all of their board, and that we will be announcing more detailed information very soon,” Pelton said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.
While underclassmen will receive an undetermined amount of credit for room and board, Pelton said seniors will receive a partial refund since they will not be returning to the school. The college is still deciding how they will issue this to students, he said in an interview. When students will receive this credit is also up in the air, but Pelton said it will be issued “as soon as possible.”
Pelton added that announcing this decision before the details had been hammered out was to respond to concerns of the college community.
“There were a number of families and students who wanted to know if the college would provide a refund or a credit for room and board charges, and we wanted to reassure everybody that we would,” Pelton said.
Pelton added that because of the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the specifics of this decision are difficult to determine quickly.
“Like much of what’s happening in the world today…one does the best that one can do at the time, and one does it, and in this case we did it, in good faith,” he said. “I believe that most families and students, perhaps not all, will understand that it will take some time—not a lot of time, hopefully—for us to work through the details.”
There will be no tuition refunds, Pelton said, despite courses transitioning to an online format.
“There’s some belief that online courses cost less than in-person classes—that is absolutely wrong,” Pelton said. “The classes are being taught by Emerson faculty. They are being paid the same for online classes as they are for in-person classes. And so in addition to that, it has cost the college some money to mount the online classes, and to prepare and educate faculty to present or to teach online. So in fact online classes cost more, not less, than in-person classes.”
The Emerson College Student Union in particular has been vocal in demanding room, board, and tuition refunds on their website and social media platforms. On their website, among other demands, they request a refund for the remaining spring 2020 room and board costs, along with reimbursement for the difference between Emerson’s online education cost and their in-person education cost.
Summer 2020 courses at Emerson, which are typically taught online, cost $778 per credit, according to the college’s website. Spring 2020 courses, which were taught in-person, cost $1,517.50 per credit. For a normal 16-credit course load, the online education costs $12,448, while the in-person education costs $24,280, a difference of $11,842.
ECSU declined to comment further to The Beacon.
Pelton said that since these courses will count the same on students’ transcripts as they would be if completed in person, tuition refunds are not appropriate.
“There’s no difference to be taught by this way,” he said. “Because students will be receiving academic credit and grades for virtual classes and will have access to support and guidance from both faculty and staff, no refund of tuition will be made for students who are taking those courses.”
Last week, Pelton acknowledged the limitations of online education in an interview with The Beacon.
“I trust the faculty to develop creative, innovative, and meaningful instruction for all students under all circumstances,” he said in the March 12 phone interview. “Online education in some instances, but not all, may be a poor substitute for the in-class experience.”
Pelton said he appreciates the Emerson community’s continued support as the college responds to the health crisis.
“I’m very and deeply sympathetic to students and their families for the disruption that the COVID-19 has imposed on them and Emerson College,” he said. “I would ask for their patience in certain matters, recognizing that we’re seeking to resolve outstanding issues as soon as we can. The safety, welfare, and continuing education of our students is the utmost priority for the college.”
This story has been updated to include information from ECSU’s website, as well as information from a March 20 email from President M. Lee Pelton.