Stop Raising Tuition

Editorial Board

The administration’s announcement to raise tuition to a whopping $69,372 by overhauling the College’s housing and dining systems is a perfect example of everything wrong with how this school is run.

Administrators confidentially concocted major policy changes with no student involvement or consent, ultimately continuing its grotesque experiment of pushing tuition to the absolute limit with a 2.8-percent increase. Yes, the increase is lower than the already absurd 4-percent increases of previous years and matches the increase from last year. But “freezing” the rate of growth at 2.8 percent is not actually freezing anything, since the increase in absolute terms will continue growing annually. The principle of compound interest — something outgoing Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen is presumably familiar with — says that in 14 years, it will cost more than $100,000 a year to attend Oberlin. The College may have slowed its self-destructive course, but the trajectory is still disastrous.

Perhaps most galling, there is a fundamental dishonesty in the way that administrators have attempted to sell these policies to students, positing changes as efforts to further embrace social justice and inclusion instead of squeezing revenue where it can. Let’s be honest: The changes to the College’s housing and dining policies have nothing to do with “fostering community” or dealing with “food insecurity,” as described in the administration’s emails. Frandsen has repeatedly and openly said in budget presentations that housing and dining are net revenue generators for the College. In other words, the College receives far more money for its housing and dining services than it costs to produce them. The College overcharges for dining and housing, and that overcharging subsidizes the rest of the College.

Of course, most students already know this. Anyone who has done the math on CDS meal pricing is painfully aware of the discrepencies between the end product dining costs, which comes out to anywhere from approximately $13 to $27 per meal, depending on the plan. The College will undoubtedly rake in money under the new plan, especially since in our experience, it’s far more common to hear students worry about wasting meals than running out. That’s in a system in which the vast majority of students are budgeted fewer than 300 meals a semester, making the idea of “food security” as a primary driver for changing the meal plan laughable at best.

But for argument’s sake, let’s take the administration’s claims at face value: That some Oberlin students go hungry because the College’s “baseline” financial aid assumes that a student has the 14-meals-a-week meal plan. If that is true — and the administration has provided no evidence that food insecurity is a problem with the student population — it would indeed need addressing. No Oberlin student should go hungry, for any reason.

Instead of forcing first-years and sophomores to buy 300 meals a semester, however, the College could have simply done what it did for housing by charging a flat rate for all Campus Dining Services meal plans. While still not ideal, that at least would have prevented food insecurity for low-income students while preserving some student choice. Instead, the administration chose to compel students to purchase 300 meals and thus raise the cost of attendance by nearly $2,000 for incoming students who planned to eat 12 meals a week in CDS. This change has little to do with “equity” and everything to do with the College’s bottom line.

The College also plans to reduce financial aid for students who eat in the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, arguing that the current system provides too large a financial bonus for members. We believe that the College should treasure OSCA as an integral part of Oberlin’s culture, protecting instead of exploiting it. This reduction in financial aid undermines OSCA significantly. As Rowan Bassman notes in an op-ed this week (“Removing Options for Low-Income Students Exclusionary, Not Equitable”), slashing financial aid for OSCA students ignores the fact that members do work for their co-ops that the College doesn’t factor in. This instance reflects an administrative trend of making decisions in confidence from fear of disruptive students protesting at every point. But more inclusion earlier on would result in less visceral reactions later, since it might interest administrators to know OSCA is a pretty big deal to students.

Ultimately, some of the College’s financial issues are difficult to understand as anything but self-inflicted wounds that students will, yet again, bear the brunt of. While administrators have invoked rhetoric about food security and are reminding us that excess revenue will go back into financial aid funds, there will simply never be a good enough explanation for a nearly $70,000 pricetag to attend school in rural Ohio — the cost of living just does not add up. By continuing to hike tuition, soon Oberlin won’t look much like the Oberlin we know and love at all.