I never imagined that I would be as happy as I am now with my decision to become a Bearcat. Under the constant surveillance, restriction and anxiety that characterizes campus life in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that sentiment may read as nothing short of shocking. But when I pass by the darkened library windows and the dining halls that more closely resemble food deserts as opposed to food service, on the way back to my dorm, I silently thank my 17-year-old self for having the insight to choose a public university where I would pay $20,000 annually to be miserable, instead of $70,000 at some private institution.
For university students, the COVID-19 pandemic has shattered any expectations about their college experience because every long-standing connotation of American collegiate life has been rendered unsafe by the pervasive and unpredictable nature of this virus. The academic and social exploration at the core of this stage have been abandoned in favor of the bare minimum — degree acquisition — for who knows how long. I’m not advocating for anyone to eschew university safety policies in an attempt to live out their collegiate fantasies. The reckless decision-making that some post-grad, middle-aged adults openly reminisce about doesn’t just mean an unfortunate tattoo or a rough morning anymore. It could also mean taking a life — your own, your classmate’s or a stranger’s. We must keep washing our hands and keep staying home, but we also must be honest with ourselves about what we’re getting for our money: much less. And it is up to the university administration, not us, to make up for that delta between product and price.
Although Binghamton University hasn’t released any information yet about the class of 2024, trends from other universities indicate unfavorable numbers of student enrollment, something BU publicized already grappling with in their 2011-18 financial report. BU President Harvey Stenger and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Nieman cite softness in graduate student enrollment and non-resident undergraduate enrollment as blocking the University from reaching its revenue target for 2018. This means that BU was falling short even before the pandemic tanked the economy, therefore disrupting the three-year plan designed to spread out the ramifications of missing that revenue target so that academics and campus services don’t suffer significantly. It is hard to tell if and how this new, nastier financial reality spells doom for our university, but when the value of the BU experience has been dramatically reduced for an indefinite amount of time, and it is likely that the value of the BU degree will be reduced too, any responsible student would question the value of attending BU at all and that will be the death knell for the institution. Especially considering how the coronavirus has severely restricted the facilitation of skill-building and career opportunities, our educations have been stripped down to their skeletons and they don’t look so different from the educations offered by other schools across the nation. Limited contact means we’re all learning and living in our own little bubbles, meeting our professors on video calls and navigating socially distanced extracurricular options, whether you’re at Harvard, “the SUNY Harvard” or Broome Community College.
So BU administration, make no mistake. Resources could be at an all time low since the opening of the school in several decades prior, but now is not the time for laying low and penny-pinching. The student population is restless, irritated and most importantly, getting only a shadow of what we paid for. Many of us are risking our health to continue our education back on campus, and many more are mortgaging the first chunk of our adult lives to satisfy the debt from doing that. We can no longer nurse any illusions that the administration cares about our well being beyond how it translates in dollar signs. We’re still chumps, but now, we’re savvier and we’re angrier. We’ve adapted, and the BU administration must adapt too, and devise some new canal of value to be presented to the student body. If not, the next class might not be so forgiving.
Madelaine Hastings is a sophomore majoring in cross-cultural communications.