clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UChicago students threaten tuition strike, want rate cut 50% during coronavirus pandemic

“As everyone knows, unemployment is reaching record levels, and that is clearly affecting students and their families,” Julia Attie, an organizer of the campaign, said Friday.

Ryerson Hall and Eckhard Hall on the University of Chicago’s campus in Hyde Park.
Ryerson Hall and Eckhard Hall on the University of Chicago’s campus in Hyde Park.
Sun-Times file

Students at the University of Chicago are threatening to withhold their spring quarter tuition unless the university agrees to negotiate with them on tuition rates and offer students a look at the university’s budget.

The group, UChicago for Fair Tuition, is demanding a 50% reduction in tuition and the elimination of student fees for as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the group said in a statement Friday.

“As everyone knows, unemployment is reaching record levels, and that is clearly affecting students and their families,” Julia Attie, an organizer of the campaign, said Friday.

The group said as of Friday morning, more than 1,100 students had signed a petition calling on the university to negotiate with the group, and more than 650 students are considering withholding their spring tuition money, due April 29, if negotiations fail.

“The University recognizes the difficult and unforeseen challenges that COVID-19 has brought about for many of our students and their families,” university spokesman Gerald McSwiggan said in an emailed statement.

“The University has taken comprehensive steps to ensure that all undergraduates who qualify for need-based financial aid continue to receive aid that meets their full need,” according to McSwiggan, who said the university is also offering additional financial assistance to students who need it.

UChicago for Fair Tuition members (clockwise from top left) Livia Miller, Julia Attie, Shira Silver and Anat Karapanagiotidou organized the campaign remotely using a video conferencing app.
UChicago for Fair Tuition members (clockwise from top left) Livia Miller, Julia Attie, Shira Silver and Anat Karapanagiotidou organized the campaign remotely using a video conferencing app.
Provided

Students are scheduled to start classes again Monday after an extended break following the university’s decision to close dormitories and public spaces on campus to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and move to remote instruction for the spring quarter.

Students are concerned about whether they will still receive the full benefit of their classes in an online setting, Attie said, adding that many of the student resources they pay for through tuition and fees are no longer available.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, “Many are experiencing severe financial and housing insecurity; this includes undergraduates who had to move out of their dormitories ... And yet, students at UChicago are still being asked to pay exorbitant tuition,” the group said in its statement.

Attie said financial aid previously awarded to a student would not take into account recent disruptions to family income, such as a layoff due to the coronavirus.

A survey last fall by U.S. News and World Report listed the University of Chicago as the second-most-expensive U.S. college; 2019-2020 tuition and fees are $59,298.

The university also touts an $8.5 billion endowment on its website, and an investment portfolio worth $14 billion.

“I know some smaller private universities are struggling right now ... that’s not the case at the University of Chicago,” Attie said.

The group also wants students to be able to attend on a part-time basis, which the university disallowed in 2016, Attie said; she noted that not all students may be able to continue full time.

“For students who choose to, for their mental health or in order to get a part-time job, they should be able to take less than a full course load,” Attie said.

A letter delivered Thursday afternoon to university officials and a full list of demands has been posted to a public Google document; it includes stipulation that a cut in tuition not affect the pay, benefits or services for students or staff.

The university, though, appeared unwilling to budge.

“Spring Quarter courses will count fully toward completion of all degree programs, and as such they will continue to have regular tuition rates,” McSwiggan said. “Students may choose to exercise their option to take a leave of absence during Spring Quarter.”