JSOM student petitions removal of certain online class fees

Pirkul said that the fees only apply to a small number of elective courses.

A UTD student started an online petition criticizing the university for charging distance learning fees for certain courses in JSOM.

Business analytics graduate student Shreyas Chaturvedi created a petition on July 22 titled, “Refund students paying an extra $960 for online classes at UTD.” As of August 14, 5,315 people have signed it.

“The University of Texas at Dallas is charging its students an additional $80 per credit hour for all OW (0W1) online classes,” Chaturvedi wrote. “There is no legitimate reason why students are being expected to pay such an exorbitant amount to UT-D, which is already Texas’ most expensive public university, beating much older institutions like UT Austin and A&M quite easily.”

0W1 is the designation for classes within the Global Leadership MBA program (GLEMBA), which is completely online. Full-time students taking 0W1 classes would only be charged an extra $960 if they were taking those classes exclusively. The fee for the program has been in place for years, said JSOM Dean Hasan Pirkul, and the 0W1 classes are ranked number six among online MBA programs in the nation.

“From day one, 22 years ago when we established this program, we passed the learning fee so that we can design and offer these courses,” Pirkul said. “Its classes are specially designed in an asynchronous mode. We follow a very strict protocol in designing these classes.”

Furthermore, Pirkul said that the online-only 0W1 classes are electives, and classes that were originally in-person but moved online are not subject to the fees.

“This fall, we have 835 sections of classes (in JSOM). 90 sections will be charged the fee and the remaining will not be charged. This is less than 11% of our sections,” Pirkul said. “Secondly, most of these 90 sections that are offered online also have a regular section where the fee is not charged. Typically, we offer our required classes in five sections, and only one of them will be online so that students have plenty of choice. There are 18 sections that are offered online only (with the fee).”

Since the program enrolls students from across the globe, the classes are asynchronous. Students who are not in the program, like Chaturvedi, can still take the courses. Chaturvedi said his experience with 0W1 classes was not the nationally-ranked experience they are touted to be.

“The reason why this is so problematic and the reason why I find this to be just completely unjust and tone deaf is because of the pandemic that’s going on right now. Most professors do this thing where they create lectures and they sort of recycle them over years. They are recorded using very basic software and technologies,” Chaturvedi said. “I (took) OPRE 6301. The professor use(d) handouts, which are roughly 10 to 15-page word documents. There (was) a screen recording of the word document and the professor made notes on the word document. A lot of times on these presentations, you can see the date when this presentation was made. This is 2020, and I have seen presentations dating as far back as 2014, 2015, 2016.”

Another fee that students are normally charged is supplemental designated tuition: a separate fee from distance learning. Supplemental designated tuition goes towards additional resources and services for each school.

The distance learning fee issue is not exclusive to UTD. A few weeks ago, there were similar situations at UT El Paso, University of Wyoming and University of North Florida. The general response has been similar to UTD, with universities stating that in-person classes moved online would not have distance learning fees.

Pirkul said that he understands students’ fears about being charged extra but that there were factual inaccuracies in the petition.

“I understand people are anxious. These are difficult times they go through. I am respectful of what they have to say,” Pirkul said. “I read through it. I disagree with some of the facts. I think that if somebody read that and didn’t have the (right) numbers, it leaves the impression that we don’t care about our students.”

Over the past six months, more than 3.2 million Texans filed for unemployment relief. This summer, thousands of students have had paid internships canceled or altered. Chaturvedi said that in light of the financial hardship many are currently facing, the distance learning fee should be repealed.

“I’m aware that many students have started petitions asking their universities to give partial refunds given the ongoing pandemic, and I’d like to emphasize that (my) petition does not seek to do that,” Chaturvedi said. “The end goal and the most important thing for me right now is to actually repeal this distance learning fee, especially for this semester.”

Earlier this year, UTD distributed $6,467,161 to students affected by the pandemic through the CARES Act. This spring, the Student Emergency Fund and International Student Emergency Fund were created to help students affected by the pandemic. Students in general financial difficulty can also apply to the Student Emergency Financial Assistance Fund.

In an email statement, Associate Dean for External Relations and Communications at JSOM Diane McNulty acknowledged the financial strain on students in the fall 2020 semester.

“JSOM is very aware of the difficulty that students are incurring with tuition and fees this semester,” McNulty said. “We are doing all that we can to raise money to assist students in need. Giving Day last week brought donors who are aware and have taken the initiative to give to university and JSOM emergency relief funding.”