The Coronavirus College Scam

The Coronavirus College Scam
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

We have previously noted the actions the University of Kentucky has taken to try to rein in students, to keep college students from behaving like college students and having college parties. One has to wonder: why did the University bring students back to campus in the first place.

Oh, wait, I know: UK couldn’t have a football season — not that the 0-2 Wildcats are having a good one — without students on campus, and, worse, they couldn’t have a basketball season, and UK is a perennial challenger for the NCAA Championship in basketball. But Stephen Moore thinks it’s about more than athletic departments. From The Wall Street Journal:

The Coronavirus College Scam

My son’s university invited him back to campus for remote classes at $70,000 a year. He got a job instead.

By Stephen Moore | October 1, 2020 | 7:20 PM EDT

My 20-year-old son attends Villanova University. It is a fine school, but this year it costs $70,000 a year for room, board and tuition — for online classes.¹ This fall most colleges are charging full tuition to families like mine to have kids on campus without real classrooms. This is like going to a restaurant and never getting served, but still getting handed the bill.

My son decided to take a pass, and a full-time job instead. He’ll learn some valuable life skills from that experience, and he’ll likely go back when classes are back open. But millions of young people are back on campus this fall. In many college towns, crowded dorms, fraternities, sororities and bars are open.

According to one report, college students represent 19 of the 25 hottest coronavirus outbreaks in the country with some 40,000 positive cases recorded in September, so administrators are suspending or even expelling students for irresponsible behaviors like going to crowded parties. But what did college presidents expect when they invited students back?

Full disclosure: When I was working for a ready-mixed concrete supplier in the Philadelphia area, I did some quality control work on projects on Villanova’s campus.

Villanova has a beautiful campus, no doubt about that, and the university has won three NCAA championships in men’s basketball, including two very recently, in 2016 and 2018.

Villanova University President the Reverend Peter Donohue, OSA, PhD, threatened to send home any student who violated the school’s COVID-19 restrictions:

Donohue sent a message to students Thursday morning, stressing the importance of following the university’s COVID-19 protocols. He threatened punishment for anyone who failed to abide by them.

“Let me be perfectly clear, if we don’t do these things, YOU WILL BE SENT HOME and more importantly, our community members’ health will be at risk,” Donohue wrote. “We all need to adapt NOW to this new normal and way of doing things — for our good and the good of others.”

The message, titled “Community First: IT’S UP TO YOU,” reiterated that students must wear masks at all times, stay home from class when sick, and practice social distancing.

One would think that even a priest, as Father Donohue is, would understand that college students don’t behave the way priests are expected to behave. Fr Donohue served as Villanova’s Chairman of the Theatre Department from 1992 to 2006; with all of that exposure to theatre majors, of all people, you’d think he’d understand that, even at a Catholic college, college students are going to be college students.

Back to Mr Moore’s original:

The silver lining is that almost none of the Covid-positive students have needed hospitalization, and most don’t even get sick. The risk to patients under 30 is minimal. But that doesn’t absolve the universities for making choices that benefit themselves at the expense of students, parents and taxpayers, who foot the bill. The schools collect full tuition while students spread the virus and learn little they couldn’t by sitting in front of the computer in their parents’ house at a fraction of the cost.

Why? Follow the money. American higher education is a big business, with total annual revenue of about $600 billion. Last spring, when schools sent students home midsemester, few bothered to refund their tuition. They are terrified that kids will save $150,000 by learning everything they need online, so education experts have trumpeted the value of the on-campus experience. Students are paying for classes they can’t attend. Administrators and professors get paid in full even though most refuse to come anywhere near their students.

At least if they don’t come anywhere near their students, they can’t be demanding sex for better grades, right? 🙂

But the important point is that few universities which went online-only refunded tuition in the spring of 2020. Villanova is a private college, not an institution funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; it needs those tuition dollars.

Heather Long, an economics reporter for The Washington Post, noted that the September jobs report showed that local education had lost 231,000 jobs and education services another 68,500. This says something important about Villanova and other colleges: with online instruction, it isn’t the teachers and it isn’t the professors who are losing their jobs, but the support personnel. If an elementary school teacher or a college professor is ‘teaching’ online, with no students in the classroom, that teacher or professor is still employed, still getting paid, but the school’s need for everything else is greatly reduced; custodians are not needed to clean classrooms and restrooms and hallways which are not used, teacher’s aides are not needed, office personnel to print out tests are not needed, security guards are not needed, cleaning supplies are (mostly) not needed, etc, etc, etc.

It’s no surprise that Villanova wanted students back on campus: they want the moolah! And with some expenses reduced — dormitory expenses will probably be higher — it might be even more moolah when it comes to the bottom line. And if Fr Donohue’s threat to send some students back home is actually realized, that’s tuition dollars in the coffers with near zero expenses.

Is Villanova really worth it? With undergraduate tuition and fees of $72,435 per year, does Villanova really open more doors than Pennsylvania State University? For main campus students, Penn State’s estimated expenses are $32,608 to 35,830 for Pennsylvania residents, and $50,142 to 53,364 for out-of-state students. Do your first two years at one of Penn State’s ‘commonwealth campuses,’ and it’s down to $26,752 to 31,830 and $39,084 to 42,306 per year before moving on to the main campus at State College.

Perhaps when Mr Moore’s son decides to return to college, he might choose a less bad bargain.
¹ – Villanova University estimates that the annual cost for freshmen is actually $72,435 per year. Mr Moore might have done himself a favor had he looked up the actual number rather than give a generalized “$70,000” figure.
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