• Luskin Undergraduate

"The Most Expensive Zoom Subscription: Advice for Undergraduates & Prospecting Students" By Caitlyn

By Caitlyn Vergara

July 1, 2020 

Whether you’re an undergrad or prospecting student to one of the seven UC’s, you’re probably frustrated trying to justify how Zoom lectures are worth thousands of dollars and student debt. Your countless all-nighters at Powell or over APUSH outlines might temporarily feel irrelevant now that students everywhere are posting jokes online about taping their notes to exams on the walls behind their laptops. While I do not condone cheating because consuming the educational material you paid for can only empower you - these are unprecedented times. Your feelings of anxiety, anger, and confusion are justifiable obstacles that might be pushing the priority of education further away.  While the term “unprecedented” has become saturated in the media, no generation in the U.S. has ever faced a faster-rising unemployment rate; let alone during a pandemic and civil unrest. Students and their parents are both learning how to navigate their altered lives. While overpriced Zoom lectures might provide us with fresh perspectives on current issues, our implicit understandings about society are giving us the answers to difficult questions. Why have some Americans disregarded CDC warnings about the expected second wave of coronavirus? Why do law enforcement officers constantly strip people of color from their basic human rights? In what ways does our culture and maybe ourselves perpetuate racism? Your answers, while probably incomplete, hold value and are informed by your unique social, physical, and cognitive domains. As many of us question, if the tuition asked of us and our families are justifiable, I urge you to acknowledge the wisdom that can be obtained outside a university. 

There is a multitude of reasons not to return back to campus or have your first dorm experience this coming fall. Many of the emails from UCLA regarding plans for this next school year have been ambiguous, but the majority of our classes will be online and access to amenities will be limited. The basic Zoom subscription is free yet many of us are paying thousands of dollars or risking further student debt to have access to what feels like FaceTimes with our professors and TAs. 

To avoid this additional financial hardship, currently enrolled students have the option of declaring nonattendance through their MyUCLA online accounts. This means students have the option of taking a term off. Declaring nonattendance means you have to reapply to the school once the term ends, but you should not have an issue returning if you’re in a good academic standings. While this may seem scary, the burden of tuition that’s meant to go towards the campus and all its amenities will no longer be an issue if you take a term off. In 2019, before the quarantine and recession, the average student loan debt was $29,800. In the time span from 2019 to 2020, the average college tuition inflation rate rose 1.06% while the USD inflation rate only increased by  0.1%. The unreasonably increasing cost of tuition has been a widespread topic even before the global pandemic and is particularly an unacceptable fee in 2020. One alternative option for currently enrolled and prospective students is to attend one of California’s 115 Community Colleges who offer courses with credits directly transferable to the UCs. Pierce Community College in Los Angeles offers courses at $49 per unit, offers financial aid, and will be abiding by social distancing guidelines with online lectures next school year.  

I was a sophomore transfer student to UCLA and obtained most of my GE requirements at Santa Barbara City College and City College of San Francisco. The latter offers tuition-free education for San Francisco residents. By communicating with both my CC and UC counselors, I was able to have a better understanding of the IGETC requirements that later allowed me to transfer to UCLA and be eligible for the Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program to one of the six participating UC campuses. All UC campuses besides UC Berkeley and UCLA participate in the TAG program. UCLA even favors transfers from in-state community colleges as 92% of their transfer students come from one of those 115 schools. I had an insightful time at CCSF in the summer of 2019 taking a physiology course from a UCLA alumni! Science is science everywhere. Prospecting UC students should consider taking advantage of this supportive Californian public school system.  

Senior lecturer at Stanford’s School of Education, Denise Pope, released a study in 2018 that clarified a university’s ranking is not an indicator that their students will have a “better well-being job satisfaction or a larger future income.” This research proved that students who are actively engaged learners at their universities were on average more successful despite how selective their school is. UCLA has introduced me to valuable connections I’m grateful for, but those relationships would have never been made if I didn’t actively seek out office hours. While many students and their parents use the U.S. Best News Ranking to justify tuition, a diploma from a prestigious school doesn’t necessarily equate to a job offer. Universities such as UCLA are using these abstractly measured rankings to warrant $13,240 to $42,994 worth of tuition to cover online classes this coming school year. 

While UCLA TAs were protesting for livable wages this past February, the university raised $5.49 billion dollars. This was deemed as “the most ambitious fundraising campaigns ever by a public university” by both local news sources and UCLA Newsroom. The school declared that student scholarships were to be included in the expenditures form this campaign, but we have yet to see their financial statements. Students and parents have not received any statements saying how the scholarship budget will be increased in wake of the global pandemic. If you choose the option to take a term off and work an entry level position, maybe you can sympathize with the graduate students who protested after realizing ranking clout won’t pay their rent or utilities.   

Many students already work while attending school, and they can possibly take on more hours at work with the absence of a full-time college schedule. While earning money, students can be learning valuable lessons about entry-level positions. After a period of being in the workforce, students can resume their educational careers with a deeper understanding of the realities outside academia. This enriched perception will allow them to engage with the curriculum with inherently better critical thinking skills. 

Non-traditional undergrad students that return to school after age 25 are even eligible for more scholarship opportunities. Not only can these students acquire the same education as someone entering right out of high school, but they can enter the classroom with a broader understanding about realities unsheltered by academia for a lesser price. 

Although there are unethical financial practices at universities across America which have only been exemplified by the pandemic, college graduates earn on average weekly wages that are 80% higher than those with high school diplomas. If you decide to work, complete your GEs at community college, or proceed with overpriced online classes this coming fall, challenge yourself to reevaluate what you want to get out of your college education. Utilize the technologies you own and keep in contact with your peers because you all can learn from each other. As societal pressures compel us to pay into an education system that should be free, students should strategize ways in which they should save money while pursuing higher education. Hopefully, when in-person courses resume, we will all come back with clearer academic intentions and personal values than when we left.    

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