Senate Prioritizes Financial Accessibility


Lily Napach

College junior Ben Libbey speaks with fellow members of the Senate’s Transparency Working Group Thursday. After the administration announced that it would fully revoke last April’s proposed policy changes, several students have voiced concern over the administration’s decision to transfer further policy decisions onto the Strategic Plan Steering Committee.

Madeline Stocker, News Editor

While less controversial than its last announcement regarding the financial aid policy changes, the administration’s most recent email has still left some students reeling.

This past Friday, the student body received the message that last April’s proposed changes to the financial aid policy — which were previously postponed until the fall of 2015 — would be rescinded indefinitely.

Some of the more noteworthy policy changes were the proposals to “adjust [the financial aid of OSCA members] accordingly” based on their housing and dining status, to make a “downward adjustment” toward students who choose to live off-campus, and to adjust students’ financial aid package “based on the meal plan [they] choose.”

The changes were originally posted to the College’s site without any warning for the student body. After discovering the changes, students have organized, demonstrated and drafted a counter resolution that called out the College for what they deemed a lack of commitment toward lowincome students and a disregard for OSCA’s financial accessibility.

“Our continued review has made clear that any changes to financial aid policy must be considered as part of the broader strategic planning process that began in June,” said the email, which was issued by Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Debra Chermonte and Director of Financial Aid Rob Reddy. “For this reason, the retraction of last spring’s proposed changes has been extended indefinitely.”

For many, the administration’s decision to postpone the policy last May was the last they heard of the proposed changes. Some students, like College senior and OSCA President Evan Cameron, have approached the most recent announcement with cautious optimism.

“We felt that this was a good step, and we’re glad they took it off the table. … We’ve been focused on the policies on the table, figuring out if OSCA’s going to shut down and how we were going to manage that. But now that’s finally off the table, so we’re putting our focus on other things.”

Cameron said that he believed the next steps for OSCA would include an increased OSCA presence at the next Strategic Planning listening session, as the Strategic Planning Steering Committee will now spearhead whatever modifications may be made to the College’s financial aid policy — a decision that has been met with much scrutiny from the student body.

Formed at the beginning of this semester, the Steering Committee is tasked with drafting the College’s next Strategic Plan, a document that determines the College’s academic, artistic, musical and financial goals for the following decade.

According to Arianna Gil, College senior and Tank Hall’s housing loose ends coordinator, the committee’s past decisions have clearly shed light on their values.

“The Strategic Planning Committee and administration have shown a commitment to developing facilities, using our endowment and [Oberlin Illuminate] fundraising and other private fundraising to build [the] Kohl [Building], [David H.] Stull Recital Hall, the new hotel and athletic facility,” said Gil. “Focusing on facilities is a way to attract elite students and compete with other institutions with ‘state of the art’ facilities. The holes from these development projects will show in our academic departments and in the class makeup of our student body.”

This year, the Steering Committee consists of 34 trustees, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni and three students — a ratio with which many students are uncomfortable.

“These discussions are happening behind closed doors. If we don’t get access to the facts and figures the committee is talking about, if we don’t get access to the hypotheticals and proposals that the committee is making, there’s no way that students can even begin to have their voices heard,” said College junior and Student Senator Ty Wagner. “The administration will have all of the power.”

Wagner also commented on what he defined as the “outdated” mindsets of the some of the Board of Trustees as well as some alumni.

“They come and they say, ‘Well, we didn’t have [this particular amenity] when we went to school. Why are we spending money on it now?’ They’re removed, and they don’t understand the realities that students are facing on the ground every day.”

Other concerns have focused on the content of the past Strategic Plan, which was issued in 2005.

During last year’s protest, some of the more poorly received aspects of the Strategic Plan were its policy changes, one of the more noteworthy of which was the modification of the study away policy.

The previous policy amendments allowed students in approved study away programs to pay the costs of tuition, room and board of the program, while the modified policy, which was made without student input, charges students the equivalent Oberlin tuition, in addition to room and board costs within their program. At the time, students argued that the new policy discriminated against low-income students, who may no longer be able to participate in the College’s study away option.

While neither the administration nor the Steering Committee knows to what extent the committee members will adjust the current financial aid policy, there seems to be a good chance that the policy will be modified with the implementation of the upcoming Strategic Plan.

“A strategic planning process … sets broad goals and directions for an organization to work towards over the course of many years,” said Reddy and Chermonte in an email to the Review. “In this respect, the current strategic planning process will develop guidelines and directions for the College to pursue related to financial aid.”

Asked if they could confirm whether or not the committee would modify the policy — and thus confirm the fears of a number of students — Reddy and Chermonte responded without detail.

“It is expected that the College will continue to invest significant resources into financial aid,” the administrators said.

For many students, the largely opaque nature of the Steering Committee has complicated how they’ve chosen to proceed. According to Cameron, OSCA officials will attempt to attend future listening sessions in the hope of becoming more in tune with the committee’s decisions regarding the policy.

“We’re going to have most of the four OSCA officers at the next listening session. … We asked if OSCA could have more involvement, but they were really shaky on that,” he said.

Other students, however, have already begun planning their response. Members of Student Senate have created both a transparency and financial accessibility working group to further address the issue and are currently meeting with members of the administration in an attempt to gather more information.

“Every administrator I’ve talked to has told me that Oberlin, like all the rest of its peer institutions, is facing difficult financial decisions,” said Wagner. “A lot of people on the Board of Trustees [and] in the administration feel like Oberlin’s financial aid spending is unsustainable. For their financial situation, they see financial aid as an area that they may need to cut in order to stay financially solvent.”

According to Wagner, Senate’s first step is to gather more pertinent facts and statistics on Oberlin’s financial standing.