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University of Chicago students hold tuition strike, demand help during pandemic

The UChicago for Fair Tuition group is calling for the elite private university to cut tuition by 50 percent and waive fees during the coronavirus crisis.
A runner, and two women wearing protective masks pass near the University of Chicago on April 27, 2020, in Chicago.
A runner, and two women wearing protective masks pass near the University of Chicago on April 27, 2020, in Chicago.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

A group of students at The University of Chicago are holding a tuition strike as they demand that the elite private university cut tuition costs by 50 percent and waive fees for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, according to organizers.

UChicago for Fair Tuition launched a petition in April calling on the university to help students and families facing financial hardship due to economic fallout from the spread of the virus.

"As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it will create an increasingly disparate impact on low-income students, students with disabilities, students of color, queer students, students with children, and more," the petition reads.

Undergraduate tuition for the 2019-20 school year is $57,642, while on-campus room and board costs roughly $17,004, and fees are $3,456, for a total of over $78,000, according to figures on the university's website.

Almost 1,900 students have signed the petition. And roughly 200 have refused to pay their spring quarter tuition bills, which were due on Wednesday, organizers of the movement told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In addition to asking for a tuition reduction, the group's other demands include that the university located on the South Side of Chicago waive advanced residency costs for doctoral students and freeze school tuition in future academic quarters.

"In addition to the laudable steps that the University has recently taken to aid the nearby communities in the South Side, we believe the University must also respond to the extreme financial hardship many students and their families face during this time," the petition states.

A university spokesman said that tuition is crucial for funding the school's operations, including for financial aid for students and employee salaries.

“Reducing tuition for students regardless of their financial means would require substantial cutbacks in operations, which would hinder the University’s ability to provide all of its current educational offerings and to fulfill its core research and education mission," the university said.

For those students who are having difficulties making payments, increased financial aid has been made available and they can apply for a payment extension.

The spokesperson also said that in mid-March the university announced that room and board fees will not be assessed to students who are not living on campus during the spring semester.

UChicago for Fair Tuition said the school raised over $5 billion last year in fundraising and wants some of the money to go toward helping students. The group said in its petition that the university has other revenue sources and should be able to cut tuition in half and still pay employees.

Students who refuse to pay tuition could be hit with late fees, and those who continue a tuition strike could miss graduation, the Sun-Times reported. The fair-tuition organization told the news outlet that it will try and cover any late fees with donations it has raised.

“We haven’t had any conversations [with school officials] yet, but we’re hoping that when they see this isn’t a bluff it will bring them to the table,” Julia Attie, an organizer, told the outlet.