When the university was operating normally, UC San Diego’s on-campus life was good, at least compared to being in quarantine. Amenities such as the gyms, libraries, exorbitantly priced parking facilities, Price Center, and the myriad of other buildings represented the vital assets that made the UCSD experience unique; these amenities added value to students’ daily lives.
During normal times, the fees collected to fund these amenities were arguably justifiable. They funded vital aspects of student life as well as other useful assets, like student shuttles and Counseling and Psychological Services.
But the university is not operating under normal conditions. We are currently in the midst of a historical pandemic, and the university’s facilities are closed to its students. Instruction has moved online, and many students have not visited campus this quarter. Despite this, the costs of tuition and fees are expected to stay the same for Fall Quarter 2020.
Negative sentiments around this decision are justifiable — students do not have access to the facilities they are paying for. However, the cessation or discount of fees and tuition raises other issues, thereby necessitating that the university keep collecting student fees and tuition payments.
A number of the fees UCSD undergraduates pay are relevant to their education and campus experience while also helping to pay for many employees in the University of California system. According to a former UCSA President, any reduction of fees would result in more firings and furloughs of UC employees in the coming months. Even more layoffs of UC employees will negatively affect the quality of students’ education and experience. Therefore, it is counterproductive for students for all fee collections to stop. Furthermore, these workers would be laid off in a depressed labor market. Unemployment in the U.S. hit 14.7 percent, the highest it has ever been since the Great Depression, raising ethical concerns about layoffs during this time.
But professors and teaching assistants still need to be paid, facilities still need to be maintained, and digital licenses for students and faculty research must be purchased, which are all funded through student fees and tuition. While students may not have access to physical facilities this quarter, paying for the continued cost of attendance helps UCSD continue employing personnel and maintaining facilities. The continued maintenance of UCSD and employment of personnel will ultimately prove to be a net benefit for the student body as once physical education resumes, students will not have to use deteriorated or defunct facilities.
The continued collection of fees also would not affect students from lower-income families, solving many questions about the equitability of financial burdens on students. The ability of these students to apply for more financial aid, as well as the UC Blue and Gold program, helps alleviate some of the financial pressure; continued fees would therefore not disproportionately affect students from lower income families. The costs of providing education have not decreased significantly, however. The opposite has happened, and the university is now facing major fiscal issues.
Many universities across the nation are reporting increased operating costs, such as digital license purchases and sanitization. UCSD is not excluded from this trend either; the pandemic has cost the university specifically $150 million, with another $200 to $300 million in losses expected over the summer. The university is now facing major fiscal issues as a result of the pandemic, creating potentially negative implications for many aspects of the student experience at UCSD. From the quality of teaching staff to the future state of the facilities, many things could deteriorate and ultimately harm the student body should fees or tuition be discounted or waived at this time. And in a more selfish point of view, the deteriorated quality of staff and facilities could decrease the value of a UCSD degree.
The question of fees and tuition during this time is tricky. It is understandable that people have negative feelings about fees and tuition staying the same given that the quality of their education and student experience has decreased. But if fees were to be waived or discounted at this time, the university would be forced to lay off more employees. This would have significant, reverberating effects on not only the workers who would lose their jobs in a failing economy, but also the quality of campus life and educational experience. The continued collection of fees and tuition, therefore, is a necessary evil in order to maintain UCSD’s facilities and staff.
Artwork by Alex Liang of the UCSD Guardian Art Department.