Hundreds of UChicago students threaten to withhold tuition

A petition created by student group UChicago for Fair Tuition calls on administrators to cut tuition by 50 percent until the pandemic crisis is over.

Hundreds of students are threatening to withhold their spring quarter payments if the school fails to negotiate their demands.

If the University of Chicago doesn’t cut tuition in half for the duration of the pandemic crisis, hundreds of students are threatening to withhold tuition payments for the spring quarter. 

A petition demanding negotiations for the cuts has more than 1,700 signatures, with more than 900 students considering a tuition strike.

A newly formed student group, UChicago for Fair Tuition, created the petition demanding the university cut tuition by 50 percent and eliminate all fees “for the duration of the crisis, beginning spring quarter.” It adds that this reduction should not affect current financial aid or result in pay cuts to employees. Further, they demand refunds to students who have already paid in full.

Additionally, the group is calling for the school to “waive advanced residency tuition for doctoral students” and “long-term budgetary transparency and a tuition freeze.”

[Related: This university hasn’t raised tuition in almost a decade]

According to the petition, and a study by CollegeCalc, the University of Chicago was the most expensive school in the nation for the 2018-2019 academic year. The petition notes that students “pay an exorbitant amount for tuition with little to no transparency about how the budget is allocated, or why tuition continues to increase.” Thus, the students demand the budget be released to see where their $80,277—the total cost for an on-campus student, according to the university’s website—goes. 

In 2016, the university removed the option to be a part-time student. The group calls for a reinstatement of this designation as students are “not able to put their mental, physical, and financial well being first by opting for part-time status” and “this current crisis has only exacerbated these existing problems.”

The University of Chicago has an endowment of at least $8.2 billion. The petition notes that the school also “just raised $5.4 billion in a fundraising campaign” and “has the financial means and the responsibility to provide relief for us and for our families.” 

The University of Chicago responded to a request for comment with a press release that said the school “recognizes the difficult and unforeseen challenges that COVID-19 has brought.” It went on to detail the school’s financial aid policies. 

“The University of Chicago is one of the few universities that provides truly comprehensive financial support,” said the university. “Compared with major four-year universities in Illinois and nationwide, UChicago graduates have among the lowest levels of student debt and exceptional career outcomes.”

While several of the petition requests went unaddressed, the university noted that online classes are being offered, the student services fee was waived for students living outside of Chicago, and that “students may choose to exercise their option to take a leave of absence during Spring Quarter.”

Also, the school said emergency financial aid is available for “unforeseen difficulties” and “the University’s new doctoral funding model, announced last fall, fully funds eligible students for the duration of their programs.” 

“We are not satisfied with the University’s response,” said UChicago for Fair Tuition.

“This statement is out of touch with the lived experiences of many students, who have been unable to get changes to their aid made during this time, and are facing daunting prospects including dropping out and taking on additional loans,” the group said.

“We believe there should be no means testing for financial assistance during this crisis,” they added.

The group said the emergency aid is not comparable to a tuition reduction because it is “extremely limited.” The University site states “Emergency Assistance is NOT designed to assist you with expenses included in the cost of attendance.

[Related: Mike Rowe SLAMS rising college tuition as classes go online: ‘What are we paying for?”]

UChicago for Fair Tuition provided testimonials of some of the petition signers to Campus Reform.

“I am a first-generation college student. My family has made many sacrifices to allow me to pursue my graduate studies at SSA,” said graduate student Camila Richmond. “My husband is the only one employed in the home to allow me to complete my field placement required hours. COVID-19 has deeply affected my husband’s income as his company decreased the number of hours he is allowed to work. Tuition reduction would be impactful and fair at this time as it would allow my family to find relief during this crisis.” 

The petition gives administrators until April 29—when Spring Quarter tuition is due—to set up negotiations over their demands before potentially hundreds of students withhold their payments for the quarter.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenDavisWilson