As of Aug, 3, 2020, an impressive 30,490 people had signed on to Shreya Patel’s petition campaign to get Rutgers University to cut tuition costs as COVID-19 has meant most of the courses are going to be online.
Almost every New Jersey and New York news outlet has featured the Business major in their coverage since she launched the Change.org petition in early July.
She is aiming for 35,000 petitioners, which equals half of the 70,000 students enrolled at Rutgers.
When Patel, 21, launched the petition addressed to Rutgers President Jonathan Halloway, July 7, it caught on pretty quickly. In fact, quickly enough to get a reaction July 16, from the University, which announced it would cut tuition by 15 percent.
Patel has scoffed at that amount. “That’s like the price of one textbook,” she told Desi Talk in a phone interview August 3.
On the Change.org petition, Patel says, “I am sure every student has seen the recent adjustments regarding fee reduction, and I am also sure that most of us will agree that this is a laughable “reduction”. A 15% reduction in campus fees still results in a charge of around $1,300 – for a campus we will not be utilizing.”
She wants the University to be more transparent she said.
“We need a clear breakdown of fees to understand where our money is going if the tangible resources will not be available. KEEP SHARING AND KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS! We cannot sit back and allow for this to be the final decision they make,” she rallied supporters.
Born in Old Bridge, New Jersey and brought up in that state, Patel, and her brother both attend Rutgers. He is going to be a Junior this Fall, as she moves up to become a Senior. He has joined her campaign and is helping out, she said. So are many friends.
In fact, now Rutgers One, the activist organization on campus has joined Shreya. “Rutgers One fights for issues on campus and I’m involved with them. And now working with them. We’re on the same page.”
Rutgers One has been hosting meetings each week on what to do to follow up on the petition. And next week, an in-person protest is being planned for the New Brunswick campus. “We are going to be wearing masks and social distancing,” Patel told Desi Talk. “We hope that w get some response. We want to know where the money is going that we are paying.”
She told Desi Talk she was at first “annoyed” as were a bunch of other students, about the email from the University, that gave no numbers behind the Fall semester protocol. “I understand they cannot tell us some things. But especially when we are not going to campus, we must be informed of where that ‘campus fee’ money is going; or when we have only online classes,” she said.
In fact, Patel had crunched the numbers before launching the petition.
“OK, so it is $171 for computer fees, $139 for a school fee, $6,300 for tuition and then 1,347 for a campus fee, so for a total of 7,957,” for one semester, she later told National Public Radio in a July 31, 2020 interview on the Planet Money show.
And in the petition Patel lays out her case and her question, using just campus fees as an example.
“… campus fees which include recreation services, student events, concerts, etc will not be applicable this upcoming semester. School fees including library maintenance will also not be utilized to the fullest extent. How will 70,000 students be expected to study in libraries or classrooms if the majority of schooling is already remote?” Patel asks.
“It seems like getting rid of the campus fees completely would be more beneficial since we are not taking full advantage of these resources at all. Right now, we are only getting $300 off, which is way too low and pretty ridiculous,” she is quoted saying on mycentraljersey.com following Rutgers’ announcement of the 15 percent cut, calling the reduction “pretty ridiculous” and “way too low” as it made a difference of merely $300.
When the feisty Patel launched her petition she thought she would get maybe a few thousand signatures. Within the first few days she got 25,000 signatures, and it has been going up since.
As in every case, when the going gets tough, the customer pays the price.
Like Shreya Patel, there are millions of other college students around the country, NPR estimates it at 20 million. It appears unfair to them to be paying when you don’t go to campus to use the facilities, leave alone not meeting your friends there, the big bonus in all of this havoc wrought by the coronavirus.
All this while New Jersey is experiencing a spike in the spread of the virus. On August 3, Gov. Phil Murphy reversed even the indoor gathering rules in the state back to a limit of 25 people, fearing the rise to past levels of close to 6 percent around March 21. After having gone down to .70 percent June 15, to allow for a move to Stage 2, the presence has grown to 1.48, above the 1 percent that permitted him to bring in the Stage 2 reopening. Much of the reversal is also because of house parties, and the numbers are moving up for those in the age-group of college-going youth.
So far Patel says, she has not heard anything from Rutgers on whether there are going to be any next steps.