Oh, you thought your college was going to give you a refund?

There’s no hiding that there is a high level of contempt politically between Baby Boomers and, well, pretty much every generation below them. Much like there was a high level of contempt politically between Baby Boomers and their parents’ generation.

I make fun of Millennials a lot, but think about this for a moment: If you are a Millennial, you have now been through two of the worst financial crises in American history – both totally manufactured by the 1960s generation – and you aren’t even 40 years old yet. Generation X is in the same boat, but at least has made it to middle age and some measure of financial security before the second crisis. Younger generations don’t have even a slight fraction of that benefit. To Zoomers, welcome to the club where panicked Baby Boomers will nuke several trillion dollars in a week and send you the bill. You have a lot of company.

Some Zoomers are now in college, and much like kids in K-12 public schools, the rest of their semester has effectively been cancelled. Of course, the primary difference between college students and public school students is that your average college student is now taking out massive amounts of personal debt to finance the education they are no longer receiving. Do they get a refund?

Surely you jest:

Stanford University, which has moved all classes online, will eliminate housing and dining charges for the spring quarter, which starts March 30, for students who have left campus. But it isn’t prorating the last few weeks of winter quarter, which were also affected.

And the university states on a frequently-asked-questions section of its website: “No, we are not going to reduce tuition.”

Imagine working your tail off to get into Stanford, and now you get to pay an enormous amount of money for the same education you’d get from a for-profit college.

Jessica de la Paz, a senior who moved back home to nearby San Jose to finish out her college career online, said she isn’t too worried about the winter-term charges, given how frenzied everything has been in recent days. But she is disappointed about spring tuition.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me to pay for an education that I’m not receiving,” said Ms. de la Paz, 22 years old. “It seems very opaque right now, what my money is going towards.”

Much of her learning came from such interactions as faculty office hours and study groups, not the lectures themselves. It is hard to recreate that remotely, she said.

Some schools, including Harvard University, Ohio State University and the University of California, San Diego, have told students and their families that they will get back some portion of room and board fees for the weeks not spent on campus.

Others are asking parents to sit tight while they deliberate. They may mail out checks, or credit accounts for the coming term—an inadequate response, say parents who also now have the expense of having their children at home.

At public, four-year colleges, average net tuition and fees were $3,870 for the current year, according to the College Board, and net room and board totaled $11,510. For private, nonprofit schools, those figures were $14,380 and $12,990, respectively. Many colleges collect a large share of their revenue from room and board, and other fees besides tuition.

“Many families are losing income now, and may need the money. But colleges need the money, too,” said Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. “They don’t have the kind of operating margin that lets them refund a couple of million dollars in the short term.”

Smith College in Northampton, Mass., charges about $17,000 a year in room and board, though not all 2,400 students who live on campus pay the full rate.

Students have been asked to leave campus by Friday, and the school expects to reimburse families about 25% of the annual rate, or $4,000, said Audrey Smith, vice president of enrollment at Smith College.

“This is definitely a financial blow,” Ms. Smith said.

About half of students have left Albion College in Michigan, where the campus remains open but classes are online only. President Mauri Ditzler said he hasn’t yet decided how to handle rebates.

Much of the financial problem that colleges and universities have here is that their housing, dining, and other programs are loaded up with debt from constructing lavish new facilities on campus in recent decades. Those bonds are retired from the money students pay in every semester and the colleges want to keep that cash flow coming. Otherwise, they are going to have to bail those entities out financially from the university’s core financial structure. That will change how they are viewed by the financial markets from a credit perspective, as there would be an explicit backstop on that debt. It effectively brings the debt onto the university’s balance sheet.

These schools that are complaining about their operating margins, however, are also sitting on multi-billion dollar endowments (that are probably hemorrhaging money right now, because they are invested in the stock market). To bail out their auxiliary facilities would involve locking in market losses, so they choose to screw the students instead.

This kind of antisocial behavior is why so many people believe colleges and universities should lose their non-profit status.

Just wait until we get to pensions for government employees that were already significantly underfunded before this event. Do you think they will cut benefits to retirees? Probably not. The bill will probably fall on newer hires. That’s how this game has worked for over 20 years now.

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