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Hopkins’ students: Is the bottom line money or quality education? | READER COMMENTARY

The Wyman Quad as viewed through a wrought iron feature on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus. June 11, 2020
The Wyman Quad as viewed through a wrought iron feature on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus. June 11, 2020 (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

As graduate students at Johns Hopkins University, we felt validated by the concerns that faculty expressed in the recent article regarding budget cuts at the institution (”Johns Hopkins faculty pushes back against budget cuts, demands more accountability from administration,” June 22). We’ve also increasingly felt that the institution’s focus has been on turning profit rather than the academic rigor for which it is known.

On May 18, students from the Advanced Academic Program at Hopkins sent the administration a petition that as of this writing has more than 1,100 signatures. The petition and the accompanying letter to President Ronald J. Daniels and the dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences was to protest an unannounced increase in program tuition and mandatory technology fees for online courses. At a time when many institutions are freezing tuition increases or rolling back fees to recognize the fact that the pandemic negatively impacts education, Johns Hopkins has decided to increase fees for a substandard educational offering.

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This has been especially apparent in the writing program where we’re students. Effective Summer 2020, tuition for the program increased 6.7%, from $3,108 per course to $3,316 per course. As the petition notes, students were never notified of this increase. In addition to the unannounced increase, Hopkins is charging a $200 “online technology fee” for each course even though all fall courses must be online due to the pandemic. That brings the per-class cost to $3,516. That is a 13% increase from the tuition last spring.

The huge increase in tuition comes despite the fact that we’re missing out on the most valuable aspects of a master’s degree in writing. For writing students, face-to-face interaction is incredibly important. We understand that COVID-19 means that fall courses have to be online, but were incredibly disappointed to learn that almost all of the fall course options are completely asynchronous online classes with no real-time interaction. Writing courses, particularly workshops, depend on real-time feedback and organic idea-sharing. It’s critical for students to have this free flow of ideas and to build rapport with each other which is impossible over a discussion forum.

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Having to pay more money for poorer options is not what any of us expect of Johns Hopkins. With that in mind, we’ve asked the administration to follow the lead of a number of other universities and make the following changes: Roll back the 6.7% per-course tuition increase, waive the $200 online technology fee for all courses in recognition of the fact that we have no choice but to take courses online this fall, and make all fall courses require synchronous video meetings as part of the curriculum.

To date, we have not received acknowledgement of our letter. We hope we’ll be able to work with the institution to ensure that students aren’t punished for circumstances beyond their control. We take heart from knowing that faculty are also trying to push the institution to put education and community before profit.

Justin Carroll and Holly Bowers, Baltimore

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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