On August 12, Partners and a coalition of supporting organizations rolled out the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights, a consumer protection initiative created in response to the nationwide COVID-19 disruption of higher education.
The rollout included the launch of a new website, a publicity campaign that yielded coverage in numerous higher ed and general publications,social media and email campaigns and a Zoom press conference that was streamed live on Facebook and live Tweeted.
The press conference kicked off with an amusing, but hard-hitting, video clip from Netflix’s Patriot Act, starring Hassan Minhaj,entitled, “Is College Still Worth It?” Partner’s president James Toscano then described the genesis of the Bill, which grew from online conversations with student leaders from across the country. The following is an excerpt from his remarks:
COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college. Regardless of the unforeseen nature of the pandemic, the result this past Spring was a breach in delivery of services for which students and their families had already paid.
Looking forward, as schools across the country announce their Fall attendance policies, there will be no guarantees that the level of instruction will be comparable to in-person learning or that students will again have access to all advertised services and benefits. Still, very few institutions are offering discounts or promising refunds. In fact,some, like the University of Virginia and George Mason University here in my state, are even increasing their tuition and fees.
Students and their families, 69% of whom say COVID-19 has impacted their ability to pay for school, are feeling anxious and angry. Institutions,they feel, are prioritizing their own fiscal comfort over the immediate financial challenges and the long-term debt facing their students.
Toscano was then joined for remarks given by Policy and Advocacy Director for Young Invincibles, Kyle Southern, and UNC Greensboro student Laura Comino. Comino had started a petition in the spring to protest the UNC System’s housing refund policy that generated over 40,000 signatures.
A video of six current college students articulating the six rights within the Bill of Rights was shown before the press conference was opened up for questions from the media. Responding to these were representatives from the California Consumer Federation, Third Way, the Hildreth Institute, Zero Debt Massachusetts and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Other coalition members include uAspire, Inversant and College Parents of America.
Toscano and the coalition members called on students, parents, alumni and others nationwide to sign a petition that will be shared with institutions and their trustees and associations as part of a collaborative effort to promote adoption of the Tuition Payers Bill of Rights. Partners also created a Tuition Payer Protection Checklist for students to download as they return to college to help then be informed and prepared for potential campus shutdowns or school policy changes.
The initiative quickly gained traction in media with stories running in University Business, Campus Reform, Education Drive and more. Across the nation, nonprofits, student leaders and activists, parents and thought leaders in higher education are responding favorably to Bill of Rights. The next step will be generating publicity in local media markets in coordination with coalition members and students, as well as continued social media campaigns and the release of relevant news and research.