On June 29th, the Dean of Student Affairs, Erica Woodley, wrote Tulane students announcing that students will have the option of applying for remote learning in the fall semester. Through Woodley, the university said, “Not all classes will be offered online, but we will work with (students) to make decisions that are most appropriate”. It also asked students to file the application as quickly as possible. 

The decision to offer online courses in the fall is a no-brainer. As COVID cases continue to surge, particularly in the south, students may fear that returning to school is a risk to their health. When Tulane announced it planned to have students return to campus in the fall, it also committed to providing a plan for if and when students contract the virus. The basic plan is this: students will be tested frequently, and if a case is identified, students will quarantine away from the rest of the student body and participate in class online. I’ll repeat that last part – inherent in the plan to bring students back to campus is to develop a plan for infected students to continue their learning online. Online learning is a pre-requisite to offering in person, on campus, learning, during the pandemic, in the fall. The infrastructure to offer in remote learning is already something university was working on. 

And yet, the official offer of remote learning came to students on June 29th. It comes exactly one month after Tulane announced its intention to bring students back to campus in the fall. It comes after 3 days after the university told students it will require them to arrive in New Orleans 2 days before move-in day, prompting many students spend money on travel arrangements. And, it also comes 29 days after the housing cancellation fee deadline, meaning students who opt for remote learning but previously applied for housing may face a fee of $1,500. 

Let me be clear – the decision to offer remote learning is the right one. And it’s better late than never. There are surely students with comorbities and students who are immunocompromised in Tulane’s student body. These students would have had to sacrifice their safety to continue their education at Tulane. It’s also likely some students suffer depression, anxiety or other mental health issues that make returning to a very different social environment than the one they left at Tulane, a difficult proposition. It’s also likely there are students whose financial security was compromised by the economic downturn from the virus. For these students, perhaps staying at home and saving money on housing is a better choice. Making sure all of these students can pick an option that best suits them is a smart move by Tulane. And ultimately any money lost from travel cancelation fees or housing fee is chump change in light of a global pandemic that’s killed 126,000 Americans to date. But, not sharing their options to students earlier both inconveniences them and likely influences the decisions they make.  

In all likelihood Tulane knew it would have the ability to offer remote learning for months now. It chose to not inform students until well after it presented its desire they to return to campus – why? The motive is likely financial. On the one hand, if a significant portion of Tulane’s population decided to choose remote learning, the university would lose the revenue it gains housing and meal plans those students pay for. It’s also hard to argue that the service Tulane provides through remote learning is the same as the experience of campus learning and all that comes with it. The university would face pressure to reduce the cost of tuition for remote learning relative to its normal price – potentially further reducing its revenue. Finally, it’s possible Tulane worries about the optics of offering remote learning as a side by side competitor to campus learning. To some, it would signal the university’s admission that can’t ensure the safety of its students on campus. Certainly, that is not a signal the university wants to send to students. Not when it wants to make sure registration for the fall semester is not greatly reduced. 

Feature Image Credit: tulane.edu

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