OPINION: The Distance Learning Fee Is More Than What Students Should Handle


James Knowles

Students have yet another bill to pay. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

Being a college student isn’t cheap. Tuition, assorted fees and the many other expenses continually produce dents and debts in students’ finances. In addition to all of these, UNO is poised to drop another large fee on its students for the upcoming school year.

For the 2020-2021 academic year at UNO, students will be charged a “Distance Education Fee”. This fee is charged at a rate of $35 per credit hour. In previous semesters, this fee would have been more manageable, but due COVID-19, a large amount of UNO’s classes have moved online. If a student has even one three-credit-hour class online, they will have an extra payment in the triple digits. If all their classes have been moved online, they could end up paying upwards of $500.

Coronavirus has contributed negatively to this issue in another way, too. Unemployment rates have spiked across the country, and Nebraska is no exception. For some students, hours at work may have been docked. For others, their employment might have disappeared entirely. For those who managed to get by without a job until now, finding work has become much more difficult.

For all of these students, expenses have risen while their ability to pay has dropped.

The fee may also catch many students off-guard, as it has not been clearly announced. Rather than putting the information a subject line or even a bullet point of an official university email, a description of the charge can only be found amongst listings of other student fees, requiring students to sift through an assortment of pages on the university’s website before arriving at the right spot.

Admittedly, the information is not impossible to find— if a student wanted to look over the fees they will pay in the upcoming semesters, the information would be presented with little dilemma. Nevertheless, with the heavy shift to online courses, the university should more intentionally inform students of these new fees.

There are a few different factors to explain why this fee will apply this semester. At the most basic level, students will face this cost because UNO wants money. However, greed might not be as significant a motivator as the statement implies. The financial effects of the current pandemic could be affecting UNO to significantly, potentially to the point where the university will attempt to recoup funds wherever reasonably possible. In certain areas, the burden on students has eased slightly, as UNO Parking Services has opened up parking permits to be much less restrictive, rather than charging higher rates for certain lots and garages unnecessarily.

It is difficult to precisely determine the reasoning behind the fee. Beyond cost and application, the only specific description of the fee that I could find gives a lengthy yet vague explanation, citing “the costs associated with instructional design and support, faculty development and training, accessibility and other quality standards, course development, and learner orientation, communication and support”

The actual amount of the costs is not given, so it is impossible to know if, in relation to them, the fee is a reasonable amount.

Whether the reasoning behind the distance education fee comes from a place of greed or a perception of necessity, it is wrong that students have been hit with such a cost during a time as trying as this. It may be the fault of UNO, or simply a product of the times and the system through which the university is funded. Regardless, the students backed into the corner of distance learning should not have to pay a fee to match.