Students Shouldn’t Bear All Cost of Incoming Financial Decisions

After listening to President Ambar’s presentation and going over the notes, one thing kept repeating itself in my head: That just doesn’t add up.

President Ambar mentioned that our tuition is similar to our peer institutions, and thus a 3 percent increase is reasonable. While our tuition is roughly similar, what students pay, including fees, is not. The average net price that Obies pay, including financial and merit aid, is around $45,000 per year, according to College Factual. The average net price per student at Oberlin’s peer institutions is far less — anywhere from $21,841 at Amherst to $32,763 at Kenyon. That doesn’t add up.

A year ago, incoming first-years were told that they had to buy into a more expensive meal plan as a revenue-generating measure. Even with all of that additional revenue, the administration is planning on closing a dining hall that typically serves 500 students for lunch and 350 for dinner. That doesn’t add up.

Students were told that the school could afford new Wilder renovations under the current Student Life Budget. Now we face cuts across the board that will almost certainly take money out of that very fund, and students are told that we will have a review process where everything will be on the table. That doesn’t add up.

The administration has said that we need to improve our retention and yield. Yet the administration wants to increase the cost of attendance and cut services, while maintaining that yield and retention will rebound. That doesn’t add up.

The administration says that the blow of the 3 percent tuition increase will be softened by the elimination of the “costs of smaller things” — for example, laundry will be free. 3 percent of the current tuition is around $1,580. Unless students are planning on doing more than 632 rounds of washing and drying this coming year, that won’t add up either.

I understand that we need to rethink the way we finance. We are going to have to face some cuts. But we need solutions that add up. I applaud President Ambar’s willingness to think outside the box. It’s a refreshing feeling that those in the Cox Administration Building know how to run a college, let alone balance a checkbook. I look forward to her office producing creative solutions that eliminate wasteful spending and unnecessary perks in the labyrinth of the Oberlin bureaucracy.

However, these solutions must be ones that make sure that students are the last people who bear the costs of the past administrations’ financial folly. For too long, instead of thinking of alternative solutions, a simple increase in tuition has been the administration’s financial quick-fix of choice. In a pinch, an increase in tuition makes sense, but when the tuition goes up every year without fail, the problem becomes those implementing it, not the deficit.

For example, Oberlin pays almost twice as much for cleaning and maintenance because we pay staff a wage well above the minimum. If students are receiving a tuition hike, surely it’s only fair that staff take a slight cut in wages. If buildings are being closed down, surely it’s only fair that buildings used by the administration are consolidated as well. That would add up.

Last week, the Chair of Student Senate, Kameron Dunbar, said that if we, the students, don’t voice our opinions, “then in the words of President Ambar, ‘This is gonna be hella hard.’” (“Students Must Protect Entirety of Oberlin, Not Just Specific Parts” The Oberlin Review, March 2, 2018).

It’s going to be a hell of a lot harder if students have to bear all of the cost.