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Johns Hopkins Student Government Association asks for partial tuition refund as coronavirus forces classes to go online

The Johns Hopkins University student government association last week asked the university’s president and the chair of its board of trustees for a partial refund of students’ tuition.

In a letter dated March 31 from the Johns Hopkins Student Government Association to university President Ronald J. Daniels and Lou Forster, the chair of JHU’s board of trustees, the SGA requested a 25% remission of tuition fees for the spring 2020 semester after Johns Hopkins elected to complete the semester online because of the new coronavirus pandemic.

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Last week, the board of regents for the University System of Maryland, which does not include Johns Hopkins, unanimously voted in favor of partial refunds of student fees for room, board, parking and athletics. Johns Hopkins has announced it will issue pro-rated refunds for on-campus housing, as well as meal plans.

“While we can appreciate the efforts that our University has taken to issue credits on unused portions of students living in on-campus housing and with a dining/meal plan, we ask that the University do more to support its students,” the SGA’s letter reads. "Specifically, we believe that The Johns Hopkins University should refund 25% of student’s tuition fees for the Spring 2020 semester. "

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The SGA wrote that it determined that figure because the latter half of the spring semester will be taught exclusively online and, citing a March 10 letter from U.S. senators to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, it believes that online learning is not equivalent to the in-class education students paid for.

Johns Hopkins has a per-semester tuition of $27,675 for undergraduate students enrolled in either the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering. The university’s Peabody Institute charges an annual enrollment of $51,077. Each undergraduate student would be refunded around $7,000 if university leadership eventually complies with the SGA’s request.

In an email Sunday, university spokeswoman Karen Lancaster wrote “at this time Johns Hopkins University is not offering tuition refunds.

“We recognize that there may be challenges for some students as we move forward with remote learning,” Lancaster wrote. “Yet we are confident that our faculty and students are rising to the challenge of this altered educational landscape, utilizing tools and technologies to make the most of extraordinary times.”

“With instruction continuing online, the core educational experience for students continues to include the same access to the time, resources, and expertise of our faculty and curriculum, as well as many of the surrounding supports normally provided for students, including academic advising, career planning and life design, health and wellness resources, libraries, and information technology support,” Lancaster wrote.

SGA President Pavan Patel, disagrees, saying that the move to online courses will eliminate the hands-on learning done in laboratory settings that is necessary for medical degrees.

He pointed to how some schools at the university are adopting universal pass/fail grading systems for the spring semester, saying that “it’s not business as usual right now.”

“It shouldn’t just be part of the business model that we have to pay the same price tag,” Patel said.

The letter to university officials also cites the lack of hands-on learning experiences, saying that the online classes held so far do not serve as an ample alternative.

“Our Professors continue to do their best through Zoom and other means, and we are grateful for their effort and dedication,” the SGA’s letter read. “However, it is clear that this online mode of education has not ultimately lived up to the Johns Hopkins standard. Additionally, many of the facilities and services, such as labs, recreation center, library, the counseling center, and Learning Den remain inaccessible to students who pay sizeable fees in exchange for their use.”

Attached to the SGA’s letter was a Change.org petition for the partial tuition refund with more than 2,000 signatures, as well as comments on the petition from students.

The SGA also included a letter from several members of Johns Hopkins’ 2020 class and a handful of students in subsequent classes asking Provost Sunil Kumar and deans Beverly Wendland, T.E. Schlesinger and Smita Ruzicka to allow students in their final semester to be part-time students and graduate and asking for an extension of the tuition refund semester for the spring 2020 semester.

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“While we can appreciate the University’s current unprecedented predicament, we call on University leadership to take appropriate action in providing financial compensation to the student body,” the SGA’s letter reads. “In these difficult times, we believe that students must not be the only ones expected to bear the brunt of the cost. Instead, we must all collectively make sacrifices; that includes our beloved institution."

Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.

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