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About a month ago Shreya Patel got a letter from the business school at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She's a senior. They're steady supply chain management, but I email really did not include anything about tuition if we'd be going down or anything like that to beads the email again. She figures they must mention. It's somewhere in the FAQ. So she reads the FAQ and she's like wait my department is going totally remote this fall and that mean I get reimbursed for all the real life stuff that I'm not going to use and the answer was no like the dog in Supply Chain management enthusiastic that she is breaks down her school built into its elements. She looks at what service is she supposed to get who's delivering what and how much each item costs? Okay. So it is $171 for computer fee $139 for school fees.

$6,300 for tuition and then 13474 campus fee. So for a total of 7957, that's one semester you freeze thinking more than $1,300 for a campus fee. I might not even see campus this year. Let alone go to the Student Center for my supply chain association club meetings, which by the way is a real thing that she goes to so, why are we paying for this? You shouldn't have to be no paying all these things when you're just getting an online education that very afternoon. She received the email. She goes online start a petition. How many people did you think would sign your petition her friends and her classmates? She posted up on Facebook the local TV news picks it up and Shreya becomes a young woman with a mission to lower tuition with her petition.

Canvasser lots of Rutgers student sign it within 4 days. She got more than 25,000 signatures and people saying you know what?

This fall college is not what I want it to be. So why should I pay full price?

Hello and welcome to Planet Money. I'm Amanda around chick colleges are in crisis. There are around 20 million college students in the US and most of them have no idea what their fall is when they look like right now colleges are making these brutal financial decisions and that's having ricocheting effects letting students staff even entire towns today on the Shelf heading off to college in a pandemic.

So Greg inbox is flooded with newsletter feedback is my favorite out there.

So this pandemic it's been going on for a while now, but a lot of us still have questions about just living our everyday lives. Like how often should I disinfect my phone? Can I say hi to other people's dogs important question join me, Sam Sanders. Short wave as we answer your questions and hopefully ease your anxiety a little Listen to It's been a minute from NPR.

Shreya Patel petition makes total sense from her perspective. Like why would you pay for things that you're not getting but like in the larger economy paying less means less income for somebody else and the cost of that adjustment can be painful for Rutgers University is weighing trade-offs between the demands of students and staff and the unions and their accountants. Those trade-offs. Look very different depending on what side of the Quad you're standing on know. This is a really big Public University. There are more than 70,000 students there in the pandemic is making University scrutinized each and every trade off every layoffs every cut. And so there have been a lot of petitions protest the lawsuits against the administration and with that in mind back in June. I got in touch with this young woman. Her name is Luis Sandoval and she's kind of found herself in the middle of this mess. She's doing her master's degree.

I'm sitting epidemiology that idea was to study infectious diseases. The dream was to work one day with Doctors Without Borders. But now it said she's getting to experience a real-life pandemic without having to travel abroad. I know it's a very dark silver lining how big a role does Rutgers play in your family's life for undergraduate degree at Rutgers her sister did her undergraduate degree at recker's her brother is planning to transfer there in a year, even her ten-year-old brother has a Rutgers sweatshirt in his future. My little brother always says that he's going to go to Rutgers what to be a dentist what you know already or all of these degrees and the plans for the future have been made possible by their mother and her job in the dining hall. I did get to speak with lose his mom, but she was a little cautious about how much she said she did tell me though that she likes her job a lot. She makes pizza in the dining hall.

And if you have forgotten Pizza Is Like Oxygen for college students? As of time of students everyday coming in to eat? Is it loud and crazy?

Cities with everybody's favorite food not a lot for a family of 6, but the benefits have made it worth it. The job gives her kids a break on their tuition, which is often one of the great things about working for a school and it's been a really good and secure job for her that is up until this spring when our dining hall was closed and she received a letter saying that her contract without now she gets a letter like this every year. She's on a 10-month contract, but she always gets her job back in the fall and she's been able to keep her benefits. Do you have the physical letter here? And that's the way the letter was worded. It wasn't clear if this was a temporary or permanent lay off the dining hall lost a lot of money in the spring and chances are they're going to lose even more in the fall of a union at Rucker's and in June the schools.

Minions held this joint press conference to try to draw attention to a bunch of layoffs without any further Ado loose Sandoval the Union's to talk about her mother situation. And this was the greatest opportunity. I could have gotten and it was wonderful because of tuition remission. I was able to finish my degree in 4 years. And so, you know, when we found out that my mother was laid off, there's like actual fear in the family. He like he don't know. In the ocean off.

We don't know what can happen loose and her family have been part of records for years and winners School makes decisions that seem to prioritize the business of everything else. It actually feels like a betrayal Rutgers is in a tough spot managing their finances. This is Robert kelchen he teaches at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Not too far from Wreckers. They don't have as much flexibility as many colleges. Most of their employees are part of a union and that makes it difficult to lay people off or to change how much money people make an associate professor of higher education II study and live high red Finance. You study and you live by Red Financial does that mean I'm also department chair in the weeds in the weeds of all this trying to get everything ready for fall and Falls getting close salt is getting close and how College finances are being hit by the pandemic is key to understanding.

Rutgers and the unions and lose his mom are all facing right now. Robert says colleges have four main sources of funding there's tuition State dollars and diamonds in donations. And finally, there's what Robert calls auxiliary revenues which means dorms and meal plans and the money that sports teams make and all of those things are taking a hit but it's the things that require real live students on campus that are particularly uncertain right now the thing that's terrifying me at the moment is we're roughly a month out from the start of the fall semester as we talked and most colleges still haven't committed to firm plans about what the follow look like the end of July when tracker list that about a third of colleges have announced that they're going primarily online and that is changing everyday because there's no one single College apocalypse story colleges themselves are pretty different from each other, but

Are patterns community colleges have gone online fairly quickly because they're tied to local communities. They're not worried about having enough students to enroll there an inexpensive option that's good for students when they need flexibility.

Historically black colleges have also been likely to go online because of the way the virus has affected the African American community and schools like Harvard have announced their going fully online to because they can students are going to drop out of Harvard just because they have to sit and zoom calls all day. That means about two-thirds of colleges are promising their students in in person experience or some kind of hybrid model. They want students to commit to showing up this fall students wanted in person experience, even if they don't fully realize what the in-person experience will actually be this far but will be in prison experience be this fall being on campus will be something like living in a monastery or a minimum-security prison monks much in person interactions are going to be severely limited students living on campus or basically going to go to class every once in awhile. Go pick up food from a dining.

And then do almost everything back in their dorm room. And if you try to go out and party you'll be scorned. And the reason it'll be like a minimum-security prison is because students will be constantly monitored and tracked. So what Robert says is happening is colleges are telling students also known as prospective buyers that yes school will be in person at least a little and they're going to keep that line long enough for students to mail in a check hoping that the students don't pick another school or defer or drop out there going to be a lot of really upset students and families in a couple of weeks when more colleges say up. Sorry, we have to go online for the fall, even though they were telling students for months that they would be in person and that's what's going to happen. I have a hard time seeing way around it for most colleges college campuses are almost like cruise ships in terms of density and putting people together.

They're both funded. Lots of organized activities may be a few regrettable decisions, but they are also Petri dishes of humanity and for some cautious students and their families. It's kind of a tough sell right now. So with maybe lower enrollment and less auxiliary revenues, that's the dorms football tickets and pizza called to say that they can't cut tuition fees the students and unions have a counter argument. What about the endowments are these meant to be rainy day funds aren't we soaking wet from an extremely rainy day people think of college endowments. They think of Scrooge McDuck bathing in a pile of gold coins and that the reality is that there are a bunch of little separate bank accounts for particular purposes where those gold coins are divided under lock and key and maybe twenty or thirty percent of an endowment is actually was called unrestricted that colleges can use for whatever.

I want is tomorrow Harvard liquidated their endowment sure, they could give each of their students 1.6 million dollars, but most students don't go to Elite schools with gigantic endowments is Rutgers. Do the same thing. Each student would get $24,000 basically a waterfront house on Cape Cod versus a Chevrolet Malibu may be fully loaded and then those colleges they would have spent all of their savings, but they don't want to spend that all at once because they wanted to grow in the future and then they also don't know how long this crisis will last and they don't want to spend their entire nest egg right now if things are back to normal for another year to another year or two and that's sadly could be the reality for all of us after the break we head back to Rutgers.

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Rutgers did not want to do an interview with us, but I did check in with him a few times about our story and they gave me an update the college got a new president as of July 1st for guy. I walked into the fire, but he does learn a lot. Anyway, he almost immediately send out an email notifying students of a 15% reduction on their campus fees. So I called up Travie tell the students with the tuition petition to see what you thought of that off of the campus fee. So not 15% of the tuition just the fees at ends up being equivalent to about less than $300. Basically, they said it like that, you know, they want to help us out but I don't really think $300 less than $300 really is much health. Not really what we were aiming for.

You want the whole thing gone or at least 50% of a little bit of like? Okay, thank you for trying records. Like I appreciate that you guys made an effort. I like the fact that something happened because that means they saw the petitioner. They saw all those students, you know, kind of demanding this action is just I just think it's still a little you know off-putting and maybe a little embarrassing that is just that low of a number Shreya has updated her petition and she is still pressuring the school for a greater reduction. And I also gave loose the public health student a call to check up on her and her family. How is your mother doing? Well, she I think she has

Dwindled hope things are not looking. Well, it seems that some people in the union did get their jobs back, but she and the other dining hall workers Have Nots it looks like the school is going to have way less students on campus than usual. They anticipated. Probably not going to open all for cafeterias. And even if they do open up a few of the cafeteria, is there going to be a listing of in the last like work to be done because I need social distance one possibility. Lou says, she heard your mother talking with a friend about trying to start a landscaping business, but I'd rather be at Rucker's lose also did have some good news. She got a job tomorrow and the hourly pay is $25 lose have been hired as a contact racer for the state of New Jersey and her salary is being paid for by wait for it Rucker's it's a six-month position in partnership with the state and she can keep

Doing the job through the fall semester while she works for their master's degree. The family's Financial calculations are very different since lose got this well paying job and she can see the value for college degree in this very real way. If I get my degree faster I could get into the workforce are looking for epidemiologist right now and then I can get a decent-paying job at me like I am doing contact racer right now the end it's the highest-earning job. I think any member of my family has ever had and whether colleges online or in person this fall lose just wants to get her degree and graduate.

Full disclosure. My sister works at Rutgers to the professor there and in most years, I guess teach there for about a half a day.

The new GDP numbers are out and they are terrible. Although maybe not quite as terrible as a number c c in the news if you want to find out more go listen to the indicator.

We love to get your emails Planet Money at NPR. Org. We're also on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter Tick Tock all at Planet Money Today's show was produced by Darren woods and Alexei Horwitz. Gazi. Alex goldmark is are supervising producer and Bryant or status to show. I'm Amanda run check. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.
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