Complex Financial Aid Situation Re- quires Honesty, Constructive Intent

Editorial Board

On Sunday, April 13, students drafted a resolution, later endorsed by Student Senate, arguing that the College’s proposed financial aid policy amendment should be formally revoked and, furthermore, that any future changes to College policy be under the purview of attending students. The resolution argues, “under the new policy, there is an increased financial burden on students with reduced meal plans with CDS, OSCA or Kosher Halal Co-op, as financial aid is reduced dollar-for-dollar based on the amount students save by choosing a reduced meal plan with CDS or by choosing Kosher Halal Co-op or OSCA.”

The reaction from students in the weeks since the change’s discovery has demonstrated the extent to which these policy modifications impact current Oberlin students. Clearly, there exist undeniably pressing concerns about the College’s proposed financial aid policy change. The College was both cavalier and out of touch with the needs of its students when it attempted to institute a policy that would render those currently in attendance incapable of graduating from this institution, but there are two sides to every coin.

In many cases, the College’s standards for determining an individual’s ability to afford the expenses associated with college life do not accurately reflect reality. Moreover, many people living and working in OSCA do so to relieve themselves and their families of financial pressure that is overlooked by the school. For some, this accounts for the difference between attending Oberlin and not; for others, it expands the possibilities for summer or Winter Term employment, allowing students to take more prestigious but lower-paying internships that may ultimately make them more competitive job candidates upon graduation.

There is also something important to be said for OSCA’s role on this campus. OSCA not only provides assistance for many students on the edge of financial stability, but stands as both a historic and vibrant component of the Oberlin community. Members of OSCA formulate their own policies about buying food, which results in a community that is conscious of the moral and nutritional impact of the food it consumes. Additionally, the responsibility of running a kitchen and cooking and cleaning for 50 or more people inspires students to become knowledgeable, take charge and try new things. Students care deeply about their food and community, which leads to respectful discussions and thoughtful consumerist practices.

However, students clamoring — and rightly so — for expanded access to higher education for low-income students do not seem to acknowledge that the College’s proposed policy change was designed with that same principle in mind.

Theoretically, the policy is designed to redirect aid money to students with demonstrated need — determined by the College via standardized forms like the FAFSA — instead of allocating the funds to those who, regardless of need, receive at least $3,662 off their room and board bills by living and/or working in a co-op. Co-op members save the equivalent of making $25 per hour of co-op work, or $100 for Brown Bag Co-op members. In an effort to compromise, the College has offered to supplement OSCA members’ financial aid packages by reimbursing them at a minimum wage rate of $7.95 for every hour of work performed in the co-op. Clearly, there is a significant financial discrepancy between the amount of money co-opers currently save and how much they would make earning minimum wage. This is not to say that the benefits of the additional financial aid funding would outweigh its detrimental effects on current students, but the intention of providing fuller financial aid packages to students who might otherwise not be considered for admittance based on their financial need is unacknowledged as a shared goal between students and administrators.

The College has agreed to preliminary concessions such as delaying implementation by one year and committing to discussions with students, but time will tell what form this dialogue will take and whether cooperation and collaboration will truly result. We submit only that productive discussion is most effective if both the administration and the students desire to acquire (and share) as much information as possible and make a decision that holds the greatest popular support. Acknowledging shared goals and understanding the complexities of the College’s situation is hard work, but work that is not antithetical to maintaining a firm stance on the uncompromisable needs of individuals. Without this sentiment, the political effectiveness of dedicated student activism is likely to be limited.