Great Falls institutions not experiencing the same pushback as other colleges and universities

Posted at 5:09 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 19:46:09-04

GREAT FALLS — Some universities around the country are seeing some pushback from students on tuition payments.

Remote and online classes continue as we inch toward the ends of semesters, and students are claiming that they shouldn’t have to pay their full tuition prices due to a decrease in the number of resources available to them. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), the plaintiff in a lawsuit admits that closing campus and transitioning to online learning was the right thing to do for the health and safety of the university’s students and faculty. Despite that, they claim that this decision has deprived them of benefits such as in-person instruction, access to campus facilities, and other benefits and services that are included in the price of tuition.

In Great Falls, the city’s two higher-education institutions aren’t experiencing a perfect online learning environment, but there has been far less pushback from students.

“We have had reactions, both positive and negative, from our students,” said University of Providence Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Matthew Redinger. “Fortunately, University of Providence is well-positioned to move online. Almost half of our programs are online programs, and every program has an online component, so we were well-positioned to make that pivot to fully online.”

“Not directly,” said Great Falls College MSU Computer Technology Department Chair, Steve Robinett when asked the same question about student pushback to a fully online end to the semester. “I think everybody comes into this knowing that it’s a change and it’s a quick one and change is never easy for everybody. We’ve taken some very deliberate steps to maintain that personal connection that we’re pretty well known for. By using WebEx and these collaborative tools like Slack, we’re able to really keep that one on one connection going.”

Both University of Providence and Great Falls College MSU had the benefit of already being well established in the online teaching community. That made the transition easier for both students and faculty. Even so, Robinett says that there was still some extra work to be done.

“When the announcement came that we were going to do stay-at-home and go to 100 percent online, the college added an extra week to our spring break that gave the faculty time to prepare for that,” he explained. “During that time, we leveraged a lot of our institutional expertise, people with online experience like myself and the accounting and some of the science faculty, we held a week of boot camps, if you will, and how to use some new technology, helping some of the less experienced faculty.”

Going back to Redinger’s comment about receiving both positive and negative reactions from students, he explained that the negative reactions he saw were not so much students saying they weren’t getting their monies worth. One thing that he did see a lot was students having connectivity issues, which led to higher levels of frustration. University of Providence has a number of students that live in rural Montana towns. With those students taking classes from home, some of them are having internet and connectivity issues. Others say they just miss the face-to-face interactions with their professors and classmates.

Regardless of what grievances students in Montana and beyond are voicing during this period of online learning, one thing that both Redinger and Robinett agreed on; things will never be the same.

“I think that we’ll become institutionally a little smarter and more experienced about the scale of this delivery,” Robinett said. “I think it’s going to change just about everything everyone in the country is doing, and we’re not going to be immune to that.”

“We will be different, every institution will be different as a result of this,” said Redinger. “We’ll likely have more hybrid kinds of courses, we’ll likely have different kinds of scheduling for courses to account for the potential for the fall second wave, as they’re talking about. We’ve learned a lot this semester about what we can do better next time we have to do this. We’re being much more intentional about planning for the possibility of moving online, and a hybrid model would help facilitate that tremendously.”