Students on the Strategic Planning Steering Committee held meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to hear from students about what direction the College should head toward when formulating the Strategic Plan, the document the Board of Trustees uses to guide its decision making.
Much of the discussions at the meeting focused on the preliminary report released Wednesday morning. The preliminary report gives an early indication of what may eventually make it into the final version.
Among other things, the preliminary report emphasizes providing students with health and wellness resources, establishing an “innovation zone” and integrating the Career Center and the Alumni Office. The report also states that Oberlin should focus on “reorienting Oberlin’s financial model towards greater long-term stability by reducing the rate of growth of tuition (total student charges) and our reliance on it, maximizing endowment growth, developing new revenue streams, re-engineering to achieve greater efficiencies and synergies in operations.”
“Creating this preliminary plan with the committee of faculty, staff, trustees and alumni has helped me realize just how in tune all these bodies of people are in terms of our values in areas like diversity, justice and education,” said Committee member and College junior Avalon McKee. “After several drafts, I think we have done our best job yet of capturing those values. Moving forward, I think a challenge will be maintaining and showcasing those values in the changes we decide to recommend — that is, preventing the disconnect that some students mentioned last night of feeling that this report resonates with them, but they do not see its ideas represented in the types of policy enactments we are currently seeing on campus.”
At the meeting, College sophomore Sarah Minion, a member of the committee, explained that the ideas included in the document were a result of being as imaginative as possible without thinking about College finances, and the committee is figuring out ways for the ideals laid out to be feasible.
Striking a balance between maintaining academic excellence and financial accessibility was an important issue to the students in attendance. Students discussed the tuition hike, growing the endowment and the fact that, according to Vice President for Finance Mike Frandsen, Oberlin will start to operate with a deficit in 2016.
Students also talked about the College-city relationship. Several students expressed that they felt the document needed to say explicitly it was only for the College, because the city of Oberlin was not represented on the committee, while others voiced their opinion that the College respects and supports the city through taxes and general awareness of the importance of the relationship.
Students seemed to agree unanimously on changes to ResEd and Campus Dining Services. All the students in attendance felt that CDS was overpriced for what it was serving and that ResEd functioned with the intention to make money and not to support students.
“I left last night’s discussion feeling very inspired and confident that, moving forward, students will have some of the best suggestions for the committee regarding specific changes that can be made to represent the values from the preliminary report,” McKee said. “Moving forward, the committee will be creating specific goals that can be put into effect in the next three to five years that stem from the values of the current report.”