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Coronavirus epidemic highlights important question: What exactly is your college tuition going towards?

Is it instruction, or lavish campus facilities? 

Multiple universities are refusing to reduce their tuition even as their campuses have been shuttered and their students sent home for fear of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s perhaps understandable that schools are keen not to lose the money they’ve already gotten from their students. But it does raise an interesting question: What exactly is the average college tuition meant for—educational instruction, or brick-and-mortar campus facilities?

Plainly it is a mix of both. But it’s likely not equal. And it is worth asking why a student attending school online should have to pay the same rate as a student utilizing physical campus space. That space costs money, after all, and the cost is predicated upon student usage: A student is paying in part to maintain the upkeep of a campus that he himself uses on a regular basis. Yet if that campus isn’t being used at all—if in fact it is entirely empty, and if students are in some cases forbidden to go there—then how can a school justify charging the same amount of money to its student body?

Plainly the most important part of a college education is the education itself. The lion’s share of a tuition should be going towards instructor salary. Yet a school should be able to justify at least some reduction in price when access to the campus itself is declined (or is impossible, as is the case here). It’s entirely likely, of course, that most American universities couldn’t afford such a price break: Many American campuses have in recent years turned into virtual spas and resorts, with ever-more-luxurious amenities for its student population.

A school that has poured so much money into those projects is of course going to have a vested interest in getting as much money as it can from its students. Maybe that’s as good an example as any of why universities should focus on teaching more so than lavish and indulgent facilities.

MORE: Many universities refuse to reduce spring tuition costs as classes move online

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