College Raises Tuition, Overhauls Room and Board


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

College junior Hannah Sklar uses a meal swipe in Dascomb Dining Hall. Starting next semester, all first-years will be required to have a 300-meal-per-semester dining plan, unless they choose to eat in OSCA.

Louis Krauss, News Editor

Attending Oberlin College will cost $69,372 next academic year thanks to a 2.8-percent tuition increase announced by outgoing Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen via email Tuesday.

The email lists significant changes to student dining and housing options that raise minimum costs and reduce the amount of need-based financial aid for Oberlin Student Cooperative Association members. Beginning with the incoming class, all non-OSCA first-years are required to have a 300-meal per semester plan at an annual flat rate of $7,990. The format eliminates weekly meal plans, instead allowing students to use meals flexibly throughout the semester but forcing all incoming students to have the equivalent of 21 meals per week for their first four semesters. These changes are not applicable to current students.

The administration will also individually reduce OSCA members’ need-based financial aid by $1,000 if they eat in a co-op and by $2,000 if they live there. According to Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, the reimagined system accounts for projected financial aid needs based on Residential Education’s new flat rate, which charges $7,872 annually for all College housing regardless of occupancy or location.

Although Raimondo said in an email to students that changes were made in an attempt to facilitate equal access to dining and living options on campus, many students view it as a subverted attempt to generate revenue in the midst of a self-inflicted budgetary crisis. Incoming College first-year Ellie Loane, who was considering joining OSCA after her first year, said the changes are unfair to incoming students.

“I understand the College’s desire to create uniformity through the dining options, and I knew that Oberlin is struggling financially because of the economy, but I believe it is unfair to require students to alter their culinary habits for the College’s benefit,” Loane wrote in an email to the Review. “I don’t think money should be taken away from need-based [OSCA] students because students without fi­nancial aid living in co-ops save money, while need-based students lose money? That’s com­pletely unfair.”

OSCA members held several organization-wide meetings this week to organize responses to administrative action. Rumblings include fears about the College setting the stage to dis­mantle OSCA altogether, though no credible sources confirm this theory. OSCA president and College sophomore Tara Wells expressed confidence in the organization’s viability despite changes at an all-OSCA meeting Wednesday night.

“I’ve heard a lot of conspiracy-esque theories that the College wants OSCA out, and I truly don’t believe that because I believe OSCA is a truly essential part of the Oberlin experience,” Wells said to the Review Wednesday morning.

But Wells’ concerns are not entirely alleviat­ed by her positive outlook on OSCA’s long-term lifespan. She worries that by reducing financial aid, additional work might pile on for OSCA members who are required to help cook and clean in their respective co-ops. With incoming OSCA students’ aid cut by tuition hikes, Wells said that receiving up to $2,000 less in savings, compared to the approximately $6,500 mem­bers currently save in OSCA housing, could de­ter prospective members.

“You’re in the co-ops doing work to earn your keep, live there and dine there,” Wells said. “Those are hours you can’t be making money working at another job. If they’re working those same hours and not receiving the same financial benefit for it, for some people that makes all the difference and they can’t afford to spend those five to six hours being paid in another job.”

Although administrators say that financial aid will meet all the needs of accepted students, Wells said the system is flawed and often leads to students seeking out additional ways to save money once enrolled.

“They estimate your family contribution, but the director of financial aid and the VP of fi­nance have both admitted that it’s a very flawed system, but that it comes along with any insti­tution,” Wells said. “I think it’s a lame excuse. It doesn’t give reason to not try to fix it or refrain from making it worse.”

In a survey emailed to all OSCA members Wednesday, results showed a strong opposition to the new policy, with 86.2% of responses, or 162 votes, saying they would not be OK with the switch to reduce future members’ financial aid.

Raimondo said administrators will continue meeting with OSCA representatives to work on finding a solution more students are comfort­able with, and that there is not a clear timetable as to when the policies will be locked in for next semester. She also connected the OSCA finan­cial aid decision to the new meal and residential costs, suggesting the flat rate may encourage more students to choose preferred housing with less emphasis on the discrepancies between the price of a single dorm room versus an open double, for example. Double-degree senior Jer­emy Poe, student representative on the Presi­dential Search Committee, criticized the admin­istration’s positing of the decision as increasing equality on campus.

“Reducing need-based financial aid for OSCA members, potentially shifting that to meet the demonstrated need of non-OSCA students with marginally increased grant money, raising the cost of on-campus room and board, requiring a more expensive and excessive meal plan for stu­dents’ first four semesters in residence, all while keeping the discount rate unchanged, means that students’ increased demonstrated need will require more loans or work-study, which is ‘eq­uity’ only in the sense that Oberlin students and their families will be more impartially and equi­tably screwed over by the institution, simply to procure greater revenue,” Poe wrote in an email to the Review. “Senior staff has decided to reduce the accessibility of an Oberlin education to meet this ridiculous interpretation of ‘equity.’”

Another one of the more confusing aspects for many students is the elimination of flex points, which are used at on-campus venues such as DeCafé. Raimondo clarified that the working plan adjusts how meals are used on campus, adding that meals will now be spendable in other locations aside from traditional dining halls.

“We aren’t using the term ‘flex’ in the 300-meal plan, but what changes in this plan is that students can use those meals at DeCafé and the Science Cart,” Raimondo said. “We’ll calculate what the full equivalent of a meal is. You could use it to buy groceries in DeCafé. You’ll have the value of that meal to spend on anything you want.”

Raimondo also said that the implementa­tion of a higher, flat rate was not designed to increase revenue at the College and that ad­ditional revenue will go toward meeting future student’s financial aid.

“Any additional revenue that comes in is going to go to support that financial aid and other operating costs,” Rai­mondo said. “So it isn’t about making money, it’s about ensuring that all students have full access to food and to the community of dining, regard­less of ability to pay.”

Aside from promoting equality, Raimondo said a main benefit of the 300-meal plan is en­suring students get enough to eat.

“One thing it addresses is food security be­cause we know hunger is an issue on a lot of campuses, including this one,” Raimondo said. “We wanted to ensure that all students were ful­ly aided to participate in the three meals a day plan, because good nutritional science tells us people should eat three meals a day.”

Aside from his role as Vice President of Fi­nance, Frandsen is also part of the Resource Management Implementation Committee, a group that History Professor and committee member Len Smith says is tasked with suggest­ing a “variety of avenues in which the College could restructure its activities” to reduce spend­ing and save money. Despite this task, Smith said that “the co-op system was not discussed in any detail in any of our committee meetings.”

The committee sent its recommendations to the General Faculty Committee on March 27, and despite Smith and the group’s “strong recommendation that it be made public,” it was never released to a wider audience, unlike the recommendations of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which made its documents easily accessible. After submitting suggestions, the Resource Management Committee disbanded. College junior and Student Senator Jesse Doct­er said that the possibility that conversations about changes to dining and housing never occurred within the Resource Management Committee is unsettling.

“If the committee never had a conversation about the residential experience, and never identified the residential experience as a way to extract greater revenue, then this to me is a total betrayal of the strategic planning process,” Docter said. “On the issue of finance, there’s not a shared governance structure outside of the Strategic Plan. There’s Mike Frandsen. That committee, as dysfunctional as it was, was our best chance to have two stu­dents sit there and say, ‘You know what? OSCA is awfully good.’”

Student Senate sent an email to the student body early this morning around midnight sup­porting OSCA members, who planned protests in front of Carnegie Hall today, and condemning the administration’s decision to hike tuition.

“Despite a two-year strategic planning pro­cess intended to lay out a shared financial vision for the school, this policy has no pretext in any planning document that has been published,” the email reads. “Like so many financial deci­sions at Oberlin, it was made by senior staff, behind closed doors, without a structure that engaged constituents. Until Oberlin’s adminis­tration finds a way to bring students, faculty, and impacted institutions to the table we can have no confidence that Oberlin’s financial decisions will reflect its values or priorities.”

In addition to the protests in front of Carnegie, a handful of students stood along north quad holding banners reading, “Can you afford to stay silent?” and “Protect low income students,” as several large groups of prospective students walked by on tours this afternoon.

Both Frandsen and President Marvin Krislov de­clined to be interviewed for this article.