Some UW students withdraw, others petition for partial tuition refund amid COVID-19

VIDEO: UW students petition for partial spring quarter tuition refund

SEATTLE — A student petition to reduce tuition fees for the spring quarter at the University of Washington has drawn thousands of signatures.

Classes at the University of Washington are all online and most students have left . Resources like libraries and gyms on campus are closed. Red Square at the heart of campus, was deserted on a beautiful Monday.

“It's so empty. It feels kind of lonely,” said Kevin Daugard, a UW senior.

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It all has some students saying part of their tuition should be refunded, and other students withdrawing altogether.

The petition for a partial tuition refund had more than 14,500 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

“It’s hard to keep and stay motivated with everything going online,” said Tupou Vaenuku, a UW junior.

“We don't believe it does provide the same quality of education,” Daugard said, adding that he’s also signed the petition.

That sentiment is shared by many UW students.

Organizers of the petition said the virtual learning system in place because of COVID “is not what we pay for.”

“For students whose classes place a high emphasis on in-person interactions, it's quite unfair on them to have to pay the full fare,” said Nicole Wong, a UW junior.

University of Washington spokesperson Victor Balta said in a Zoom call Monday that the university hears student' concerns, but a tuition refund isn't going to happen -- in part, because education expenses have actually gone up.

“We are paying our faculty and instructors their full salaries. We’re also frankly investing a bit more this quarter in order to be able to ensure instruction can happen in this remote way,” Balta said.

He added that some learning materials, like lab kits, were also being mailed to students.

The changes and uncertainty with COVID has also caused an uptick in students withdrawing this quarter: 900 students have dropped out so far, which is about 350 more than this time last year.

“It could be tied to their own health, their family’s health concerns, or financial situations related to employment currently in the U.S. and elsewhere,” said Denzil Suite, vice president for Student Life at the University of Washington.

Another concern for students is commencement.

Graduation last year brought about 60,000 people together.

This year, commencement will be held online on June 13. For Daugard, a senior, he said it was tough news to hear.

“It’s unfortunate for students who've been waiting for this their whole lives,” Daugard said. He’s the first in his family to graduate from a university in the United States.

The university says it’s not all virtual -- students graduating in 2020 can also walk in the 2021 commencement. And if there’s enough demand, the Class of 2020 might have their own ceremony in 2021.

“This will be the kind of ceremony folks look back on for decades and say -- remember in 2020 when they had to do this virtual ceremony, before they were able to do the in person one?” Suite said.

Another online petition with nearly 10,000 signatures asked the university to push commencement to the fall, like some other schools.

But UW said delaying the ceremony by a few months wasn’t an option with the size of the event, plus the uncertainty of what public health would be recommending by autumn.

Students say they're trying to focus on the positives.

“Seattle is very resilient, UW students are resilient, and we'll get through this,” Vaenuku said.

Changes are also impacting future students. With so many standardized testing dates canceled across the country, UW will not require fall 2021 applicants to take the SAT or ACT exam.

Classes will be held online at the UW until at least July 23, including the term A of the summer quarter.

Find more answers to frequently asked questions on the UW website. And more information can be found on the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma commencement websites.