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Students disagree with cost of online classes, still believe degree is important

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought forth increased concerns — especially for students — about whether their degree is worth the price they are paying for online courses.

Courtney Rodet, an economics professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, said although there has been debate regarding the importance of college, data from before the pandemic shows those with a college degree have an advantage when it comes to lifetime earnings. 

Some students report concern that if online classes persist, they will not be receiving the quality of education they are paying for.

Natasha Leiter, a sophomore studying fashion retail, said she wishes she was two years younger, so she could attend her classes in person rather than online. Last year, Leiter changed her major to avoid long courses in an online format, she said.  

“I joined this (fashion retail) major, and all of my fashion classes are online, and it's just not exactly what I wanted,” Leiter said. “I definitely think the university should have lightened the costs a little bit. The fact that we're still paying full tuition for half the experience is kind of garbage.”

Julia Miller, a sophomore studying communication, said her adviser suggested she take courses through one of OU’s branch campuses — significantly lowering the cost of classes — and recommends other students do the same depending on their financial means. 

“Second semester … I had to take all my classes through OU’s main campus because I didn't have all the classes I needed at the branch campuses,” Miller said. “I thought I was paying a little bit too much for what I was receiving.”

Underclassmen are not the only students concerned about cost and quality. Emme Vair, a senior studying integrated language arts, said the price bothers her because she felt she was gaining more of a social experience for the price of college prior to the pandemic when she took in-person courses. 

Conversely, Vair differs from other students in her feelings regarding quality of education. She believes her professors have done well with the transition online, although she is disappointed to have missed out on an entire year of being in the classroom.

Despite feeling optimistic about her own experiences, Vair has a different recommendation for incoming freshmen.

“If I was my sister, she's a freshman and she is going to Cincinnati … I would consider taking a gap year because, to me, I feel like I could find a job, a higher-paying job or something, instead of paying thousands of dollars to go to school right now just because it is such unprecedented times,” Vair said. “I think my options would be very different if I wasn't a senior.”

If universities choose to stay online going into the future, they may have to consider reducing costs, Rodet said. Academics are not the only thing students gain from attending college. Therefore, if experiences such as living on campus, meeting people and gaining hands-on education are removed, tuition prices may need to be reconsidered, he said.

Although many concerns have been voiced about the value of a degree currently, Miller still believes earning a diploma is an important piece of joining the job market.

“I think the value of a degree has become very important in a job world. I think everyone's just jokes around like, ‘I'm just getting a piece of paper,’ but in order to put you up in the income and how much you want to make out of college, it's important to have a degree,”  Miller said.

Additionally, Rodet believes the “baptism by fire” into online classes will push other professors to change their teaching style.

“I'm optimistic it will open the eyes of educators,” Rodet said. “Lecture is a thing of the past. It persisted for thousands of years, but now, higher-ed has to change. We're going to do more learning by doing, I think, even in fields where they're not traditionally thought of as majors where you learn a skill.”


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