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Students struggle with fees, classes in coronavirus crisis

Updated April 3, 2020 - 3:59 pm

Like many Nevadans weathering the state’s effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, Deisi Guzman may soon have some tough choices.

The UNLV sophomore shares an apartment with her older sister and a friend. All three have been laid off from their casino jobs, as have many of their classmates at the working-class commuter school.

Rent, utilities and tuition are due. She had planned to take a summer course, which she said has now been moved online — with a $100 distance fee tacked on.

Something, maybe everything, will have to give.

“It’s hard to figure out how we’re going to pay all of our bills,” Guzman said. “I hope it blows over faster than people expect. I don’t want to have to worry about paying my school bills or getting evicted.”

Some of Guzman’s fellow students have similar concerns.

They’re also out of work. They have children of their own who are home from school, which makes it difficult to continue their now-online college courses. Students are out hundreds of dollars in fees for art supplies or services that can no longer be accessed.

As aid pours out of the federal and state government, the students feel left behind.

Student loan forgiveness was left on the cutting-room floor during Congress’ work on three stimulus packages. Many students don’t qualify for either the $1,200 taxpayer or $500 dependent stipends. State unemployment hotlines and websites have proved difficult to navigate.

Some courses have proved more difficult in an online setting.

Sean Nguyen, a languages major, said he has advanced French and Spanish courses that rely heavily on conversation. Instead, students are taking vocabulary quizzes that any dishonest pupil could easily cheat through.

A little help

The university has made adjustments in an attempt to soften these blows.

Spokesman Tony Allen said housing, meal and parking fees have been prorated, while other services have been made available online.

Students may also request to be graded on a pass/fail scale rather than a letter grade.

All outstanding tuition payments have been pushed back to May 16, with the Nevada System of Higher Education’s board of regents due to debate stretching this deadline all the way until the end of September at its Tuesday meeting. Late fees have also been waived.

However, although it has been posted in subsections of the university’s website, that important news does not seem to have reached the student body. Of the 10 students who reached out to the Review-Journal, none was aware of the tuition relaxation.

Marisol Guzman, Deisi’s sister and a UNLV senior, said she was told by the university that payments were still due as normal, and she was being assessed a late fee of $25 per week.

Stefany Alas, a junior, said she called the academic advisement office this week and was told her final $1,100 tuition payment was due Friday.

“I got my last check on Feb. 27, and it was a little less than $1,100,” said Alas, who was also laid off from her casino job. “I had to put the rest on a credit card. It’s a little disappointing pouring that much money into a school that doesn’t care.”

Alas lives with her parents but is unable to qualify for any stipends or unemployment because she is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, she said. She also claimed the school tacked on a distance fee for a summer course.

Allen, with UNLV, said summer courses were still being worked out, but it was his understanding that no new distance fees would be attached to courses that did not require them initially.

Ruined GPA

The university also extended the withdrawal date for courses to be dropped without a failing grade, but it did not extend the refund period.

“I feel like I spent thousands of dollars to ruin my GPA,” said Taryn Sainz, a senior microbiology major who plans to apply for medical or physician assistant school before graduating in December.

Sainz said she’s taking advanced math and science courses that are difficult in an online setting. To compound things, her children, ages 7 and 10, are being taught online during class hours. With only two computers in the home, one of the three has to sit out of at least part of their instruction every Monday and Wednesday.

“I’m lucky that my husband pays for my school and supports us,” she continued. “But if he were to be laid off, I’d much rather have that tuition money than try to scramble through a semester.”

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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