LEWISTON — Hundreds of Bates College students are calling on the school’s administration to reduce tuition for the coming semester given the many restrictions eyed for their campus and classrooms as a pandemic rages.

At least 500 students, parents and alumni had signed a petition by late Tuesday that asked for more transparency about Bates’ plans, more time for them to decide whether to come to Lewiston and a lower tuition to reflect the diminished “college experience” they anticipate.

“We believe that the choices that were made regarding the fall semester are in the best interest of the college and not the student body,” said the petition, which has not yet been submitted. Students said their interests should be put before “the college as a financial institution.”

Mary Pols, a spokesperson for the college, said that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, “Bates has been transparent and consistent that all decisions are guided by our responsibility to protect the health and safety of our campus and local communities.”

She said that since late February, Bates “has communicated frequently with our community to keep members apprised of our COVID-19 responses and planning for the fall,” on its website, social media and more.

“After transitioning to remote operations in March, the college introduced a series of virtual forums and town halls for students, faculty, staff, alumni and families,” Pols said. “This proactive approach to regular communication and consultation is ongoing and will continue for the foreseeable future. For example, in just the past month alone, nearly 1,700 members of our campus community have participated in virtual forums focused on our fall plans. In addition, the college’s fall planning team has been meeting every two weeks with the Bates College Student Government to provide updates and receive student feedback.”

Some of the concerns expressed in the petition relate to pieces of the plan that are not settled, especially which classes will be taught in-person and which ones remotely.

“There is potential for students to be paying to be on-campus just to take virtual classes from the dorm rooms,” the petition said. “Why would students pay to be on-campus if that is what their situation entailed?”

Bates is charging the same tuition whether or not students are on campus this fall, but those who don’t come to Lewiston won’t have to pay $7,353 extra for room and board. Its yearly tuition for the coming year is $73,530, typically paid in two installments, one before each semester. The first half is due by Aug. 1, though many students receive financial aid that can drastically reduce the bill.

Especially given the possibility that Bates may not be open if COVID-19 becomes a greater threat, the petition said that asking for full tuition for a semester is too much.

“Students and parents need to be extremely cautious about trusting Bates and their motives when it comes to reopening the college,” the petition said.

Petition calling on Bates College to make changes to its fall reopening and tuition plans.

Bates, which has an endowment of more than $300 million, raised its tuition by 3% for the coming year, a marked contrast to one of its wealthier peers, Williams College in Massachusetts, which reduced tuition by 15% as part of its plan to deal with the impact of the disease.

The petition insists it is “unfair that students have to pay for the full semester upfront” while other institutions make cuts or allow delayed payments.

“Bates should not have the luxury or opportunity of financially benefiting from their students, while their families are under so much financial stress,” the petition said.

Pols said that “Bates will offer both a residential experience and remote learning to keep our students on track with their education, whether in person or away from campus. Even with the investments necessary to offer that experience, we have kept our single fee in line with prior years. The college will continue to meet the full demonstrated need of every student receiving financial aid, and students and families who have experienced a change in circumstances can contact our Student Financial Services office.”

The petition said the college’s plan for the fall semester isn’t comprehensive enough yet to expect students and families “to make the financial commitment that Bates College has offered.”

“Just because some students decide to go back to campus and pay for on-campus learning, this doesn’t mean that some, or all, of their classes won’t be virtual,” it said. “Bates has chosen a hybrid system, which implies that some classes will be remote while others are in-person.”

The signers also said that asking students to decide by Thursday whether to return to campus, study remotely or choose a gap semester isn’t enough time for such an important decision.

The petition said students don’t know what learning will look like either in person or online.

“It is completely unreasonable to ask students and their families for trust and commitment with large financial decisions like college tuition if they do not even know what their education will look like,” the petition said.

Pols said Bates’ plan “invites students to return to campus in person or to study remotely. This choice lies squarely with students and their families, depending on their personal circumstances.”

“To inform the college’s planning for the fall semester, Bates has asked students to declare their intention” for the semester by Thursday, Pols said. “While we understand that some plans may change, this snapshot is important in order to plan for space in residence halls, classrooms, and dining to deliver the best possible campus experience.”

The petition said students who opt for remote learning, whether by choice or necessity, should pay less. They don’t benefit from on-campus activities, it said, and only take courses online.

They don’t have access to high-speed internet, the library, in-person sessions with professors and other amenities that Bates provides, the petition said.

Reducing the bill only for room and board is unfair and ignorant, the petition said, one that “solely benefits the college and not the remote student population.”

The signers also complained that they are paying for meals as if they would still have unlimited ability to use the dining hall. Instead, Bates is instituting a plan that requires students to pick an hour-long time slot and stick to it for meals.

The petition said that “many key and critical parts of Bates College will be compromised” because of the disease, including extracurricular activities, clubs and sports.

“We highly encourage and respect the safety procedures that are in place,” the petition said, but “we can still recognize that these safety procedures place restrictions on a students experience. That warrants a reduction in tuition.”

The petition also seeks more information about plans should the college have to shut down part way through the semester as it did in March.


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