Opinion: If CSU’s want to lower student’s costs, online learning should still be an option

Josh Gonzalez, Contributor, Opinion

“The CSU makes every effort to keep student costs to a minimum.”

Every Matador, in some form or another, has seen these words. Yet, as CSUN transitions back to in-person learning in spring of 2022, these words have never felt more hollow.

Though it is true that the CSU system has lower tuition costs than its contemporaries, like the UCs and private universities, the rush to return to “primarily in-person instruction,” and all the costs implied therein, makes such a claim dubious at best, and misleading at worst. Online learning during the pandemic has proved itself to be a useful, viable and affordable alternative for students.

If the CSU is genuine in its commitment, then it should instead offer equal opportunities for both in-person and remote instruction for its students.

Of course, the efficacy of California’s financial aid system should not be understated. A report by the Institute for College Access and Success found that the state’s financial aid system, as well as the efforts of California colleges and universities such as the CSU, have allowed tuition costs to be more manageable for the average student. However, that same report notes that “existing state aid programs are not designed to sufficiently address non-tuition costs of college, including housing, food, textbooks, and transportation, particularly in high-cost areas of the state.”

This finding is consistent with CSUN’s own 2021 – 2022 cost of attendance page, which states that students would have to spend anywhere between $8,000 to $21,000 annually on rent and transportation combined, depending on whether they live with family, on-campus or off-campus.

By keeping online classes an accessible option, CSUN would allow students to save on transportation costs, while also potentially diminishing housing costs for students who had to move to Northridge to live closer to campus. These factors would then allow students to more comfortably be able to pay the $7,012 annual tuition costs required to attend CSUN.

This is not to say, however, that online learning is superior to in-person learning. Different students will have different needs to excel, as well as different interests to explore, such as student life and extracurricular activities — both of which are more accessible to students on-campus.

Nevertheless, concerns that online learning leads to inferior academic performance in students is a misconception, as indicated by a March 2021 study by Mei Yuan Law. In the study, most students reported a positive attitude and high satisfaction scores when it came to online learning.

An April 2020 study by Igor Chirikov also found that STEM students produced “similar learning outcomes” between in-person and online instruction.

NPR reported that there were other benefits to online learning as well. Students who are part of a minority group stated that online classes have made it easier for them to avoid racist microaggressions in class, which consequently allowed them to excel.

With all of these cases presented, it is clear that keeping the option of online learning open to CSUN students would be a net positive.

It is undeniable that the rising costs of public tertiary education in California is a complex issue, especially given how these costs are often unrelated to tuition fees, and as a result, state universities have limited influence over them.

But, it is precisely because of the complexity of this issue that simple solutions, such as providing wider access to online classes, are important. They serve to give struggling students the aid that they need while the state formulates and deliberates upon bigger, holistic solutions.

Through this aid, the statement that “the CSU makes every effort to keep student costs to a minimum” becomes more than just a seemingly empty platitude.