A trash conveyor belt in the South Dining Commons carries trash and dishes into the dining facility's kitchen (copy)

Opinion columnist Brett Knepper argues that the University of Kansas should refund dining and housing for students no longer living at the University because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Opinion

In some of the most recent news, Democrats have been trying to propose legislation that would forgive $30,000 in student dept for borrowers during the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Many students are likely looking at this development and thanking the powers that be for taking some kind of pity on us poor college kids.

But while that legislation struggles on the floor, us at the University of Kansas are also hoping for some funding too. In this case, the reimbursement of some of the fees we pay in order to be at the University.

Already, there’s been a push elsewhere for similar refunds. In Vermont, for instance, students are signing a petition to try and achieve some financial refunding in the midst of being transferred to an online-only class structure. But the University of Vermont website already states that no reimbursement will be provided for student housing or dining plans, thus staying “consistent with the university policy and the housing and meals contract.”

While they are seeking repayment for tuition as well as other campus costs, I offer an alternative because it’s not likely that the University would refund any tuition payments for the semester due to classes still occurring (albeit online-only).

Instead, the college can focus on refunding the campus costs in the dining and meal department. This would be relatively fair as students are essentially still paying for half a semester’s worth of meals and living space which is no longer valid for much of the student population.

In a publication by Urban Institute, of the average room charges in 2015-16 at a public  four year university, students could be spending anywhere between $5,000 and $7,000 for the year depending on if the student is in a rural area or a city. As for board charges, students can be paying anywhere between $3,500 to nearly $5,000 for the year. But these figures aren’t stagnant. According to research by the College Board, average tuition and fees (including room and board) for a public four-year university this academic year is at $21,950. For 2015-16, the average price was $21,040. That’s an increase of over $900 in just four years! And it all comes from raising costs across the board.

I’ve already argued that colleges need to lessen the financial burden of students, and while there may somewhere be the argument for colleges needing to charge students these outrageous amounts to stay afloat, there is no reason for universities to take student money when students are not even using the resources the money has gone to pay for.

On March 17, the University announced that “KU Housing will be limited only to residents who need to maintain a physical presence on the Lawrence campus” and proceeded to close housing to those without some form of exemption and reason to stay on campus. This meant that hundreds of students have been forced out of the place they are paying to stay, and have no use for the dining for which they also paid.

We can all respect the University for being safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to keep the money many students need as payment for something that students no longer have use for. 

Start treating your students right, KU.

Brett Knepper is a sophomore from Newton studying English creative writing.  

—Edited by Ben Winfrey