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Too Little for Too Much: Reduce Tuition for Online Western Programs

I used to take the city bus every day from my downtown apartment to meet friends for class. I went early to secure my front row spot to pick up on cues and asides from the professor. I would grab lunch at The Spoke before heading to dance practice. I completed group projects on campus, studied for finals at the library and went to every concert the USC hosted. This was life at Western University. And -- if given the choice — I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Today, in my fourth and final year, I attend class from my childhood bedroom. I’m lucky to have one virtual study group with my friends each week. My life is consumed by pre-recorded lectures offering no chance for genuine engagement. Covid-19 has left me, and many others, with just a fraction of the university education and social experience.

Western had no choice but to shift to online education. However, I respectfully disagree with Western University — and other universities offering mostly virtual programs — charging online students full tuition. Please don’t pretend an online education is as mentally or socially fulfilling as the pre-coronavirus version.

As part of my tuition, I pay mandatory fees for the marching band, student buildings and recreation centre. I can neither march in a school band, sit in a classroom, or take a campus Pilates class. Why am I paying for services not being offered?

Western has the “Best Student Experience” in the country for a reason. We offer over 200 clubs, semi-annual concerts, sports teams with varying difficulty levels, a movie theatre, bright study spots and an especially welcoming freshman program.

I fully understand paying $8,000 for this enriched student experience. But Covid-19 has stripped me of the student life I cherished most.

With this price tag comes membership into the Western community. I had fallen in love with this inclusive environment throughout my time on campus.

Baristas at UCC Starbucks memorized my order.

The tension in the silent library during the midterm exam period.

Cramming to finish group presentation an hour before class.

We were all in it together.

The only community. I feel part of today is the one I have with my study buddies: my poodle, goldfish and two cats.

Last year, I witnessed a live debate in lecture between an exchange student from Portugal and a member of the LGBTQ+ community from British Columbia. Each had unique experiences which gave perspective and depth to standard course topics. Last week, I watched an hour-long pre-recorded lecture featuring a middle-aged white man discussing his opinions of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Reduced tuition should come alongside this loss in class perspective.

In April 2021, I will receive my Bachelor of Arts diploma from Western University. But it will not represent the full four-year diverse, socially and culturally extensive education experience my fellow alumni enjoyed. I understand online learning is our only safe option. But one of the few ways to compensate students for attending university in their bedrooms is to avoid depleting their bank accounts.

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