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With another semester of online class ahead, financial and educational questions circle MSU students

December 18, 2020

As the semester passes the midway point and heads into the final weeks, students reflect on their college experiences. The consensus is getting adjusted to online learning is difficult, but students are doing their best to make the most of their time. Explore MSU's empty campus and listen to three individuals discuss their time this fall.

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Produced by: Annie Barker

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Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

If this semester was a meal at a restaurant, it’d be — for MSU mechanical engineering freshman Tyler Burr — a tuna club sandwich, but the tuna is expired, the tomatoes are mushy, the bread is soggy and the waiter forgot to put a pickle spear on the side. After taking a bite, he asked himself, “Why did I pay for this?” 

“I don’t feel like we’re getting out of it what we’re putting in, in terms of paying,” Burr said. “If you’re a customer and you go out to a restaurant and you get something that isn’t satisfactory, you’re not going to put up with that. … I feel like it should be no different with school, especially because we’re paying so much money for it.” 

Burr, like so many other MSU students, has been learning through a screen this semester. He’s tired of hearing that remote classes are an exact mirror of in-person ones. They’re not, he said. 

“It truly is like I’m teaching myself the work, and I’m not paying to teach myself in college,” he said. “I’m paying so that I can be taught by professors, and when it’s an asynchronous class, it doesn’t seem personable at all.” 

MSU announced the switch to being all online on Aug. 18 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, most classes have been provided in several different formats: synchronous, where students meet with professors at certain times throughout the week over Zoom; asynchronous, where students are given material to learn without meeting with professors; and hybrid, a mixture of both synchronous and asynchronous. 

Burr has had one class that is synchronous. The other four have been asynchronous. 

Biomedical laboratory science sophomore Kennedy Zimmerle has had a more balanced class type, with three classes being synchronous and two being asynchronous. However, she said she still feels she’s teaching herself a majority of the time. 

“My professors, they try, and the videos are helpful, but there’s only so much rewatching you can do before you’re like, ‘OK, this doesn’t make sense,’” Zimmerle said. 

When it comes to getting help outside of class, she said it’s been hit or miss. Some professors and teaching assistants have responded within the hour. Others, she’s still waiting to hear back from. 

“We’ve emailed the TA, the professor, over and over and over again and haven’t got responses when it pertains to an assignment that’s due in 24 to 48 hours,” she said. “And we’re like, ‘We don’t know what to do.’”

As a biomedical lab science major, Zimmerle said a lot of her classes are labs. Without the hands-on experience that comes with in-person labs, Zimmerle said she’s unsure as to how prepared she’ll be when she has to perform these video-taught techniques herself. 

“My very first week of classes when I was doing videos, it was drawing blood, and they taught me to draw blood through a video and how to run lab tests through a video, through simulations, and simulations are nothing like in person,” she said. "So, I’m going to have to go back to school when — and if I’m able to go back in person — and have to remember what I learned through a video to do on an actual patient and to run actual tests in an actual lab from a simulation or a video of my professor doing it.” 

The question for Burr and Zimmerle has now become: How much longer can they afford to pay for online classes? If they aren’t receiving the benefits that come with being in person and are paying the same amount for online classes as they would for in-person ones, is it worth staying?

MSU joined the University of Michigan and Wayne State University on Sept. 24 to say that in-person classes most likely won’t resume until fall 2021. Around that same time, COVID-19 cases were slowly beginning to escalate across East Lansing, with about 550 cases linked to MSU’s campus. 

Even with news of COVID-19 vaccines being on their way, if MSU changes course and decides to go online and charge the same amount for the fall 2021 semester, Burr and others said they are prepared to bid adieu to MSU and find a new campus to call home. 

“For me, personally, if MSU decides to go online next year without a deduction in costs — if we’re still paying the same amount for an online education — I will be transferring to either Western Michigan University or Grand Valley State or Michigan, U of M,” Burr said. “Any one of those colleges, I’ll be transferring there or wherever is holding in-person attendance because I value my education, and I value the cost of it. I’m paying for all of it on my own as well, so I don’t want to pay all that money and not have the same type of education.” 

Burr said if MSU were to go online again for the fall 2021 semester, but it were to reduce its tuition cost, he’d most likely stay. 

In April, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced a tuition freeze for the 2020-2021 school year, meaning that costs would neither rise nor drop. MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen said MSU has remained committed to the development and success of its students throughout this year.

“MSU strives to ensure that every student feels a sense of belonging at the university, develops their purposes and passions, and finds academic pathways that lead them where they hope to go in life,” Olsen said. 

He said on average, 1,000-2,000 MSU students leave the university in pursuit of other opportunities. This year, there have been no signs, according to him, that students are leaving at a faster rate. 

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“When we survey our students, we find that a majority of them report that most of their classes are going well,” Olsen said. “We also have put programs in place, including the most recent Circles of Success Mentoring Program, to provide additional resources and support systems to ensure their continued progression toward their degrees. These programs have fostered increased persistence rates over the last five years.”

This semester, MSU offered 40 in-person classes. According to a letter from the president, it plans on offering 400 next semester, prioritizing students who need them to graduate on time.

Zimmerle said her lone in-person class for next semester, a music band class, has already been canceled. 

“That was going to be my one solace, my one Holy Grail, like, ‘All right, I get some human interaction and get out of the house,’ and then they canceled it upright,” she said. “So, at this point, it’s just going to be get through this semester — just get through it — get to summer, and then if it comes to the fall semester being online again, I will most definitely be transferring because I cannot afford to do this for another year.”

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