Columbia University on Strike

Niharika Sapra, Staff Writer

Centered in the heart of New York City, Columbia University, a prestigious research Ivy League University, remains one of the most selective and expensive colleges in the country with an acceptance rate of <5% and an average out-of-state tuition of ~$80,000 for undergraduate students (including housing costs, textbooks, and other fees). Upon the lockdown restrictions in March 2020, Columbia University shifted to offering online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, only allowing a small handful of students to live on campus or attend in-person classes.

This past week, starting on January 22nd, students at the university began the largest tuition strike in nearly 50 years. More than 1,100 undergraduate and graduate students at Columbia University have pledged to withhold their tuition for the spring semester, unless the university’s administration agrees to reduce the cost of attendance and increase financial aid by 10% (following suit of several prestigious schools like Georgetown University, Princeton University and Williams College).

According to Columbia University’s Barnard College chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), more than 4,000 students at the university signed a pledge supporting the strike before it happened. In October 2020, YDSA’s news release about the pledge stated that “the students organizing the tuition strike view it as a last-resort tactic to compel the university to listen to demands that students have been organizing around for the past few years.”

With the tuition for Columbia University being 51-84% more expensive than the average U.S. four-year private university, Columbia students hold almost $21,979 in student debt after graduation, according to the U.S. News and World Report. This great disparity made students realize that they needed to take action, especially since there weren’t any significant tuition aid or discounts provided despite the virtual learning environment.

During the 2020-2021 school year, students all around have organized tuition strikes with similar motives. Columbia senior Willem Morris, the YDSA ‘s social media coordinator mentioned that the students at Columbia University were inspired by two schools in particular. “University of Chicago — there was a tuition strike this spring that won a tuition freeze for students — and then at University of Manchester, a rent strike there won a 30% reduction in rent,” he said. Morris also mentioned that the student organizers assisted them and gave them advice on organizing the tuition strike.

With these positive outcomes in mind, the students plan to continue the strike in the coming weeks. Do you think universities should offer a discount to students during eLearning?