Student Senators Call for Financial Aid Transparency, Engagement

Jordan Ecker and Ty Wagner

Oberlin College Student Senate is committed to investigating Oberlin’s finances by gathering as much information as possible, synthesizing this information so that students can engage with it, creating discussions about Oberlin’s financial direction particularly involving financial aid and making the Steering Committee more accessible to the Senate and to students themselves. Here’s why.

Over and over again, when asking questions about the school’s financial situation, we as Student Senators have been told: “Oberlin College needs more revenue to remain a prestigious institution.” “Changes must be made.” “We are spending too much money on financial aid.” Yet students across campus feel nickel-and-dimed by the College on issues from laundry costs to the amount of food that counts as a meal in Dascomb — not to mention the ever-rising tuition.

The administration has made little to no effort to make Oberlin’s financial situation transparent, and any individual student attempting to make sense of where their money is going must enter a Kafkaesque labyrinth of tax returns. Official financial reports lack information that students care about and need, and the same reports are so unintelligibly complicated that it takes hours and hours of work to make any sense of them.

We believe the administration’s statements that the College needs more revenue to remain solvent. However, as student senators, we also need the College to be transparent about the school’s financial situation so that students can meaningfully engage with the administration.

Many students took the announcement that the administration is indefinitely suspending the changes to financial aid as good news. However, tacked on to that announcement was the troubling news that discussion of changes to the College’s financial aid policy will now take place exclusively in the Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee, formed every 10 years, is tasked with drafting the plan which will guide all of Oberlin’s decisions over the following 10 years, and it is one of the most important and most opaque institutions on campus. Its meetings are not open; its facts and figures are not released. It doesn’t release minutes, providing instead only summaries neatly packaged by Oberlin’s Communications Department. The Steering Committee’s website is designed more to inspire than to inform.

Additionally, of the 37 members of the committee, only three are students, none of whom were democratically elected by the student body. Instead, the Board of Trustees chose these students. That’s not to say the work these students do on the planning committee isn’t valuable; however, they need all the help they can get in representing the student body. The student members of the Steering Committee have been holding “listening sessions;” while this is a great tool, students need a direct avenue to the Steering Committee at large.

As it stands now, students simply do not have enough of a voice on the Steering Committee. There are no listening sessions with the full committee and no committee working groups with students outside the committee. This opacity creates a situation where students, particularly those most marginalized, are alienated from the most important decision-making body on Oberlin’s campus.

Students do care about the work the Steering Committee is doing. The protests that exploded in the wake of the changes to the financial aid structure last year should at the very least teach us that Oberlin’s student body cares about the financial decisions Oberlin makes as an institution. But the Steering Committee makes it very difficult for students to meaningfully engage with it. Relocating discussions about financial aid changes from the administration to the Steering Committee disengages students from a dialogue they have worked to shape over the past few months, and it means that students have to start from scratch to make their voices heard again. This will bar students from participating meaningfully in the real discussions about financial aid.

For these reasons, Oberlin College Student Senate is committed to gathering as much of Oberlin’s financial information as possible and increasing the Steering Committee’s accessibility. We would also like to invite the student body to work in both the Student Financial Accessibility Working Group this Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. on the first floor of Wilder Hall, and the Transparency Working Group on Thursdays from 5–6 p.m. in Wilder, in order to more fully discuss these issues. We need to have a voice regarding the future of our college.

Cosigned by the following student senators: 

Megan Bautista
Justin Bongi
Nicholas Canavan
Zachery Crowell
Sara Ebb
Zack Gill
Anjali Kolachalam
Benjamin Libbey
Nicholas Olson
Nolan Sharper
Cory Ventresca