Health Services Fee Has Potential for Positive Change

The Editorial Board

According to the Office of Financial Aid’s website, the cumulative cost of one year for a full-time student at Oberlin is set to rise $831 next year, as the price jumps to a jaw-dropping $59,474. It’s hard to justify a price tag that huge, and certainly many items contributing to the rapidly rising costs at Oberlin (and at similar schools across the country) can be attributed to extravagant and unnecessary administrative spending. But at least one chunk of that increase is necessary — it’s a long overdue acknowledgement of an area of Oberlin’s student services that desperately needs reform.

Dean Estes has announced that the College will add a $200 fee to each student’s bill to fund a planned revamping of Student Health Services. The money will benefit mental as well as physical health services: Areas of improvement include the hiring of a full-time counselor as well as a staff member to work with campus health initiatives, an extension of the health center’s hours and a reduction in the cost of certain services. The Student Health Advisory Committee is also seeking student feedback on other areas to which the fee should contribute.

The publicized aims of the new fee are much needed. Students have long expressed frustration with Student Health’s hours of operation, which allow particularly limited time for walk-ins. Competition for available appointment slots means that students with urgent health issues often have to wait several days to be seen by a medical practitioner. And it is possible that students unable to pay for services are systemically denied the help they need — even when those services are hypothetically open and available to them.

To address all of these problems requires money. So, as reluctant as anyone should rightly be to see this increase in the cost of our Oberlin education, the addition of the fee is commendable. More staff, longer hours, reduced costs: These are significant steps toward rehabilitating our inadequate health services.

The administration made an admirable decision in choosing to fund these improvements by implementing a fee — which will be covered by financial aid for low- to moderate-income students — rather than by increasing the cost of the College’s health insurance, which would have disproportionately affected those students who purchase it.

As necessary as finances are to realizing the proposed changes, money is not the only solution to the problems ailing Student Health. As John West, OC ’12, noted in a Wilder Voice article last spring, Oberlin’s mental health services are generally good resources but can be difficult for students to navigate. Along with the increased hours and the added positions, the upcoming changes to Student Health should include a concerted effort toward increasing student knowledge about available services.

Health care is a vital resource for all people, but college students have an especially great need. Viruses travel at lightning speed in dining halls, dorms, locker rooms and co-ops, and Oberlin’s high-stress academic environment makes us susceptible to anxiety and related disorders. Moreover, being sick — whether physically or mentally, whether for a week or a month — can be an insurmountable obstacle in a college student’s semester. We cannot wait any longer for systemic positive reform to the services meant to keep us well.