By: Maxwell Brandon

Let’s say you order a brand new luxury vehicle. You pay for features like seat warmers, a sunroof, high-quality leather, and a powerful V8 engine. Of course, all of this comes with an increased price tag, but you don’t buy a new car very often, so it was worth it. After waiting for a couple of weeks, you get the call from the dealership saying your car has finally arrived. Full of excitement, you race to the lot. However, when you arrive, the dealer informs you that the factory unexpectedly ran out of parts, so they weren’t able to provide your desired features. There’s no sunroof, the seats are a cheap fabric, the V8 is now a V4, and, even worse, it has manual windows. Oh, and just to rub a little more salt in the wound, you won’t be getting a refund.

Now, this situation seems ridiculous, if not totally unrealistic. However, change out the word “vehicle” for “college education,” and instead of heated leather seats and a V8, imagine a gym, libraries, social gatherings and seminars. This is the exact situation millions of college students find themselves in with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. And no, we are not getting a refund.

I’m a senior at the University of Southern California (USC). My school is known for having one of the highest tuitions in the country. For the 2019-2020 school year, USC tuition was $58,133. Of course, this does not include other costs like textbooks, food, and rent.

Where the real value of a four-year degree comes from is the education itself. Do not confuse “education” with classroom-learning, that would be dismissive and incorrect. Obviously, what happens in the classroom is important. But I can learn science, accounting, math, and most other subjects online, on YouTube or another online program.

Universities are more than lectures and classrooms. They are networks, resources, and institutions. Their sole purpose is to stimulate and enhance a student’s intellectual capacity. This comes through interacting with peers from around the globe, going to social events, and partaking in the traditions that connect generation with generation. All of these things combined build human and social capital–nowhere else but a university do all these assets meet in congruence. The value is greater than their individual sums.

But now, this is all gone. The vehicle I ordered and the vehicle I received are two completely different things. Campus is shuttered. The gyms, libraries, common places, and dorms are all closed. Campus events, cancelled. Commencement, pending. For the remainder of the semester, all USC classes will be held online. Similar circumstances are unfolding across the nation.

What I paid for at USC wasn’t just what was happening in the classroom. It was everything else I described–the entire experience. Now that’s gone, and even the one last piece of the university, the classroom, is compromised. I have excellent professors who truly care about the students. But their courses and their teaching styles are not designed to be taught online. The quality will simply not be the same.

For these reasons, USC and other universities should offer partial tuition refunds. The spring semester is only halfway over, and I have paid thousands of dollars for services that will remain unrendered. While a refund can never make up for the time with friends lost or the human capital never built, it can take some of the sting out of knowing I’ll be finishing out my college life sitting at my desk at home watching lectures on a 17-inch screen. If returned, that tuition money can be put toward things like rent on the off-campus apartment that I will no longer be needing for the rest of the semester, and yet am still paying for.

Obviously, the Coronavirus pandemic was unexpected. There are other lessons to be learned, like the importance of public preparedness and the evils of Communist regimes that censor their doctors and journalists, enabling viruses like this spread. Obviously, this wasn’t the university’s fault. However, like the airlines and hotels who were prepaid for services that they cannot deliver because of the pandemic, it seems only fitting that universities follow suit in refunding their students. It is my hope that USC, as well as all other schools, do the right thing.

Maxwell Brandon is a senior at the University of Southern California and chairman of the USC Young Americans for Freedom chapter.