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College Campuses Should Not Reopen in the Fall

Suzy Woltmann Suzy Woltmann
20th May 2020
College Campuses Should Not Reopen in the Fall
College campuses in the US are closed through summer due to the pandemic (Getty Images)

The Claim

Dr. Christina Paxson claims that if colleges and universities do not reopen their campuses this Fall, a crisis far worse than COVID-19 may impact students and the entire institution of higher education. 

Emerging story

The article “College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here’s How We Do It,” published in the Opinion section of the New York Times on 26 April 2020 by Dr. Christina Paxson says higher education will fail if colleges do not reopen in the Fall.

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Misbar’s Analysis

Dr. Paxson, who is President of Brown University, shows how remote learning causes students to undergo untenable burdens. The majority of the article focuses on the true crux of its claim: that most colleges and universities will not survive economically if students do not return in the fall. This loss, Paxson argues, would be catastrophic. 

However, Paxson’s claim relies on misinformed reasoning about the economic models used by colleges and universities. In particular, her argument uses a misleading false dichotomy fallacy, which implies that there are only two possible outcomes ­– open in the fall or close forever – when in actuality there are many possible outcomes for higher education. 

The primary area in which the article is misinformed is its argument that most colleges and universities are tuition dependent. While tuition does contribute largely to higher education funding, it is not the primary source of funding for many. Paxson fails to recognize that higher education in the private sector finds most of its funding from grants, donations, and dividends; public higher education funding comes largely from government sources. Recent studies show that tuition only makes up around 21% of public college and university funding. It is true that some colleges and universities depend heavily on tuition funding. However, Paxson’s reasoning hyperbolizes the situation to apply to all higher education.

While Paxson introduces the burdens students face due to college and university closures to insinuate a sense of pathos, her claim rests solely on the notion of tuition dependency. Tuition is unquestionably a significant source of higher education funding. Still, it is highly unlikely that even if colleges and universities receive zero tuition in the fall they will be forced to close. This means that the devastating blow Paxson foresees for higher education tuition funding will not take place. 

Sites including the Washington Post wrote articles on the subject.

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Paxson’s either/or mentality may cause readers to misunderstand college and university funding sources and believe that reopening in the fall is necessary for the continuation of higher education in the U.S.

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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