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An Open Letter to the University

By The Campus
On April 25, 2020

Screenshot courtesy of Return of Charges student email

Dear Ottawa,

Your refund policy: why? We got it, we paid for the dorms and food plans for the whole semester; we paid you that money willingly. No one could have predicted this pandemic, but a lot of students could have predicted Ottawa University not wanting to refund six weeks’ worth of money. In this hard time, especially for students having to juggle online courses and a job, if they could even find one, don’t you think even a percentage refund would go a long way in helping your students?
Students who are planning on graduating this semester have a chance to get some money back. What if they aren’t graduating or wanted to finish their degree at a different college; they don’t get the refund then? How is that fair to students that aren’t graduating and are not sure if they are returning?
Few students have spent four years here at Ottawa; each new school year, we meet more people that leave the following year than people that choose to stay. If the students don’t return, Ottawa University takes that “refund” money as a donation. 

But this “refund” has another option, for those who are returning. As long as the return of charges sheet is turned back in by May 1, students returning in the fall can use it toward their tuition. However, like every year, tuition will be going up in the fall. Many students didn’t receive more than $1,000, which is a minuscule fraction of the cost of what we already pay to go to Ottawa. 

For a standard room in Bennett Hall, it is $2,542.50 for one semester, per student. With 16 weeks in a semester, that comes out to $158.90 per week. But for the six weeks that we weren’t on campus, that room is $953.43; most students only got around $500 for their room refund, and an average of $300 per meal plan (an all-access meal plan for one semester is $2,945, and for six weeks, is $1,104.37). 

We, as students, are guided to our rooms at the beginning of the school year and shown all aspects of the room and then sign off on it, saying that it is now our responsibility to make sure everything in the room stays undamaged and protected, under our own watch. That is an agreement between each student and the University; that agreement is intended to last all school year long. When we were checking out of our rooms, we did not follow standard procedure and sign off to ensure the room looked the same as the first time we signed; we simply turned in our key at the RA desk and left for the year. 

The start of this school year students, mostly the off-campus students, were already upset with the university, for forcing them to buy a meal plan. Which, by the way, a lot of the off-campus students, got maybe 10 meals, but are those 10 meals worth the cost of the whole meal plan? Many of these people felt FORCED to eat in the caf because of the meal plan they had to buy. 

We, as students, understand that the University must pay its outside vendors and that not everything is University-owned. However, if you are an on-campus resident, where did that money go? Students deserve an explanation as to where this money that they paid at the beginning of the school year (or semester) went, and why they aren’t getting what they paid. 

We understand that the University is having setbacks, the same as we are. However, college students didn’t qualify for stimulus checks, so while their parents got an extra $1,200-$2,400 in the bank, we are all relying on what money we had saved up unless our parents are generously supporting us through this difficult time. We had expected a substantial refund from the University due to how much tuition is, even for just one semester. As students, we feel cheated out of money that we are owed. 

Ottawa University, we want to believe that Ottawa has family values. We want to believe that this is a home away from home. We believed all of these things until you wrote that email. We come to Ottawa not for the money, but for the memories. The email broke our hearts thinking we are just a number. We deserve to have a fair amount of money given back to us. It is not fair to have cheated the students from the money they scraped up to pay for school.

A majority of us have student loans that we have to start paying back in a few years. It becomes difficult for students to find the extra money lying around as we get older. Financial responsibility begins and it continues to add on. The correct amount of money that is returned to us allows fewer loans and financial stress on families. 

The biggest group that is getting hurt is the seniors, the people who have to start paying back their loans first. It seems really unfair to give them this amount of money when they have put their hard work into graduating from this school just to get their last semester cut short and to get returned a small amount of what they should have. Some of us will survive, those who still have a few years to get money to pay back their loans in the future, due to what has happened this semester, but the seniors don’t; their turn around is nearly immediate; six months after graduation is when they have to start paying back their loans. It seems it would have been easier to treat at least the seniors with the respect that they deserved when they attended the school for four years. 

We just want an explanation. An explanation of where funds are going so we, and parents too, can be more at ease with the University’s approach at refunding its students. When that email was sent out and everyone read it, we were in disbelief. Even students that aren’t affected much by not getting a refund are still confused about how this is all working. Maybe out of this letter we can come to a compromise between parties about possibly getting more refunds. But an explanation to the students and their families is needed. 

We love Ottawa. A lot of us have memories then already that are going to last a lifetime. We want to continue having these memories but the University keeps making it harder to keep a smiling face when we feel like we are being cheated. 

Our return of charges email felt impersonal. We want it to feel personal. We know this is hard. We understand that you are struggling. We hope you know that we are struggling, too. We will get through this together. We just want to understand a little bit more. 

Sincerely yours, 

Several students who would like an explanation


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