MU Coronavirus

Students walk on the Millersville University campus Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Students at two of Lancaster County’s largest colleges are calling for tuition discounts in the fall as many classes shift online due to the coronavirus.

Online petitions urging Millersville University and Franklin & Marshall College to reduce tuition have received a combined 1,400 signatures and counting, as students express concern over paying full price for a potentially watered down academic and social experience.

"We should not be paying full price for these online classes," said Michael Kleine, a Millersville rising senior and music industry major who created a petition.

The movement comes as colleges across the country attempt to reopen safely and try to offer a comparable campus experience for students during a pandemic.

Like Millersville and F&M, many colleges and universities have opted to reopen in the fall under a blended approach, meaning a combination of in-person and online courses. Still, most of them haven’t reduced tuition. Princeton University, which announced Monday it will cut tuition 10% this school year, is one exception.

Some schools, like Temple University, faced lawsuits in the spring demanding partial tuition refunds because of the shift online.

Demanding a discount

In April, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, of which Millersville is a member, agreed to freeze tuition. It has done so for two consecutive years, despite myriad financial difficulties that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Still, Kleine’s petition demands tuition be reduced by 50% for students taking online courses.

Kleine said he created the online petition after learning all five of his classes in the fall would be conducted online.

"There’s an academic effect where you’re not going to learn as much as you would face-to-face," Kleine, 21, said, adding that virtual classes make networking, an important tool for college students, next to impossible.

Millersville spokeswoman Janet Kacskos said in an email that the university sorely needs revenue, 75% of which is covered by tuition and fees, following the distribution of millions of dollars in refunds. She encouraged students to apply for assistance through the university’s coronavirus relief funds.

Dave Pidgeon, spokesman for the state system, said while he understands students may be in a bind, the credits they receive are "worth the same."

"We felt it was the right thing to do to hold the line on tuition and do everything we could do to ensure students could pursue credits toward their degree," he said.

A cost reflective of the product

At F&M, tuition, fees, room and board increased by 3.5% this year.

In his petition, Kyle Addis, a rising junior business major, urges the school to at least reverse the tuition increase.

Addis, 21, said participating in virtual classes last spring was "a completely different way of learning" and took away a large part of why he chose to go to a liberal arts school - meaningful, in-person interaction.

"The cost should reflect those differences," he said.

The college didn’t respond to a request for comment, but in a May email announcing the tuition increase, college President Barbara Altmann wrote, "Since 1787, the value of an F&M diploma has fortified and bolstered generations of Diplomats throughout their professional and personal lives."

She continued: "We are proud to offer the same powerful F&M education to our students today, as together we adapt, learn, and stretch to prepare this generation for lifelong success in a changing world."

LNP | LancasterOnline could not find tuition-related petitions at Elizabethtown or Lancaster Bible colleges.

A spokesperson for Elizabethtown College, which also expects to offer a hybrid approach in the fall, said the college isn’t planning to reduce tuition.

A Lancaster Bible College spokesperson responded but was unable to answer questions about tuition and refunds by LNP | LancasterOnline’s deadline.