More than 1,400 Columbia University students are threatening to withhold their tuition payments next semester, claiming the "exorbitant" fees are exacerbating their financial hardships in the midst of the coronavirus-related economic downturn.
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Collectively, they have signed a petition calling on school leaders to "alleviate the economic burden on students" by reducing the cost of attendance by 10% while also increasing financial aid by 10%.
Students are also pushing for officials to offer grants in replace of the school's work-study program so students will "automatically" be given that portion of their financial aid rather than paying it off through "work-study, summer jobs, or other means," according to the petition.
Tuition rates alone, which amount to over $30,000 per semester, "constitute a significant source of financial hardship during this economic depression," organizers wrote, adding that the Ivy League school in New York City is one of the most expensive universities in the nation.
However, school officials confirmed to FOX Business that undergraduate tuition this year was frozen in response to the pandemic and remains at $58,920 for the 2020–2021 academic year.
Still, students argued the "financial burden posed by high tuition costs and student debt" is greater than ever before due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic recession.
Earlier this year, Columbia announced that all undergraduate classes would be conducted remotely because of the pandemic, which students argued is even more reason to slash the cost.
"We are calling for a tuition reduction partly because of the challenges, equity issues, and diminished educational quality entailed by remote classes," organizers wrote.
The organizers also noted that fellow institutions such as Princeton University have already reduced tuition by 10% for all undergraduate students during 2020-2021 whether they are on campus or learning remotely.
However, combating the high cost of tuition, "should not come at the expense of instructor or worker pay" the students argued. Rather, it should come at the expense of "bloated administrative salaries, expansion projects, and other expenses that don’t benefit students and workers," according to the petition.
"The mission of our tuition strike is to make Columbia work for the needs of its students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the surrounding community," Townesend Nelson, one of the petition's organizers, told FOX Business.
In doing so, Nelson says they hope to "inspire and empower students and working people across the country to take direct action to improve their lives."
While the petition also calls for halting construction projects in Harlem to further investment into the safety of Black students and West Harlem residents, the cost of tuition has been a recurring focus for students.
However, school officials say they are doing what they can to help.
Students who are enrolled in fall and spring terms may enroll in summer term coursework at Columbia for tuition-free credits at no additional cost. Academic departments have adjusted their curricular offerings across these three terms to allow students more flexibility in fulfilling their requirements, according to officials.
The school is also offering additional support in the upcoming year including an off-campus living allowance of $4,000 per semester to help with living and technology expenses related to remote learning.
A Columbia spokesperson told FOX Business that the school "has remained focused on preserving the health and safety of our community, fulfilling our commitment to anti-racism, providing the education sought by our students, and continuing the scientific and other research needed to overcome society’s serious challenges.”