Managing the Virtual Village

With Lawrenceville’s transition to a virtual spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the question of tuition has sparked much debate in the community.

With Lawrenceville’s transition to a virtual spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the question of tuition has sparked much debate in the community. Teachers are trying their best to adapt their curriculums to Zoom, but many have been forced to cut down on content due to the significant decrease in time for each class. As a result of these difficulties, some families are petitioning to reduce the tuition for this term, stating that the current online learning cannot compare to sitting around the Harkness table and that many other resources such as dining and athletics are no longer provided; thus, although students are not getting the full Lawrenceville experience, families are still paying the full tuition. While their argument is valid, especially given the economic hardships some families may be facing, it is crucial to consider the consequences of a tuition cutback for the School.

Lawrenceville’s budget has been deeply affected by the pandemic. The School has prioritized supporting students and their families by returning $3,000 to boarders to accommodate for their no longer living on campus, storing personal items for II to IV Formers through Bohren's Moving and Service at no cost, and shipping domestic Vth Formers their belongings for free. Taking into account the fact that Lawrenceville is comprised of hundreds of boarding students, the costs for these measures alone have had a noticeable impact on the School’s budget for this Term and the future. The School has also added additional expenses in creating the best online academic experience possible; many of our teachers have had to increase their number of subscriptions to educational websites, some of which are not for free. Zoom, for instance, offers free services to educators for use in class, but gaining access to the webinar feature that Lawrenceville uses for school meetings requires payments.

Additionally, although families may argue that they should receive a partial refund because their children are unable to utilize Lawrenceville’s learning facilities, it is important to recognize that those facilities still need to be maintained. The costs for cleaning, electricity, and other maintenance requirements in all of the buildings remain regardless of whether or not they are being used, and the recent completion of the Gruss Center for Arts and Design has only increased those costs. If we want to continue using these facilities when we return to Lawrenceville, these costs cannot be avoided and therefore should not be refunded.

Reduced tuition could also have a significant effect on the School’s ability to emerge healthily from the coronavirus crisis. With the unemployment rate in the United States at an alarming 14.7 percent and over 30 million unemployed Americans this past April, the issue has inevitably reached some of Lawrenceville’s workers as well. “Despite Headmaster Stephen Murray H'54 '55 '65 '16 P'16 '21 and Chief Financial Officer Ben Hammond P'23’s efforts to look at budget predictions and cost savings that can help Lawrenceville as a community reach the goal of keeping everyone employed,” Assistant Dean of Students Emilie Kosoff H'88 '96 '00 '18 P'19 said in an interview with The Lawrence, “the issue of unemployment on campus is still prevalent and cannot be understated.”

People who work hard to keep the campus running for students, such as our infirmary workers, gardeners, public safety officers, dining staff, and other essential workers, may all be struggling to get through these difficult times; they have families to take care of and basic necessities just like everyone else. As the majority of us students live in more privileged circumstances, it would be better for the community as a whole if tuition remained the same. If we reduce the tuition by too much, this loss of money for the School could lead to faculty or staff losing their jobs. By doing so, we could seriously harm the lives of our essential campus workers, and damage the integrity of the Lawrenceville community as a whole.

Moreover, although Lawrenceville has not applied for (nor does it plan to apply for) a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program or other emergency funds designed for small businesses, a significant tuition cutback could force the School to take a loan. Across the country, many private high schools and colleges have been struggling financially and applying for economic support, including Harvard University. Despite its endowment of over $40 billion, the college took a $9 million loan from the government and returned the money only when President Trump himself criticized the college for being inconsiderate to other small businesses. If even major and well-established institutions, which did not offer any tuition reductions to families, were forced to resort to such measures, the coronavirus outbreak may be more economically taxing to Lawrenceville than most families may think. Therefore, rather than trying to reduce the tuition for this term, families at Lawrenceville may even want to consider donating to the School. Kosoff noted, the “very committed and supportive alumni and parent community that has stepped up and donated to the School has helped and will continue to help Lawrenceville through this crisis.”

As we continue to live in these economically uncertain times, it is understandable for families to wish for a partial tuition refund: our current experiences surrounding the pandemic is certainly unparalleled and unnerving. However, the School has already given back as much as possible without sacrificing its essential workers, the families it is supporting, and the future of learning at Lawrenceville. Kosoff also mentioned that the School has continued plans to support families on financial aid as well as those on the lower-income scale who may have been most affected by the coronavirus. For those of us who live in more fortunate circumstances, it is time that we stop demanding more than what we already have received and even consider giving back to the Lawrenceville community.

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