Winter Term Committee Must Revise Grant Policy

Editorial Board

With the end of the semester fast approaching, many students are organizing housing and transportation funds for Winter Term. While some students can afford to front the costs of living and dining for the month of January, many require funding or scholarships to supplement projects that do not receive payment, as per College policy. That’s where the Winter Term Committee comes in. The committee, a group composed of nine faculty and staff members and two students who sit on the Student Finance Committee, awards group and individual grants to approximately 250 students every year.

The committee’s grant allocation budget stays relatively consistent from year to year, totaling around $35,000 with fixed contributions from the College, Conservatory and Student Finance Committee, as well as varying donations from alumni and outside grants. Group grants are generally more common because the deadline for completing them is earlier. These grants also tend to be more expensive, as they often need to accommodate a large number of students or fund international travel.

While these accommodations for low-income students are appreciated, more can be done with funding allocation to ensure that Winter Term projects, here and abroad, are accessible to everyone, regardless of financial status. As with any institution, the committee should adopt a need-sensitive approach to grant funding. For individual applications, there should be a required financial need question, and for group applications, leaders should allot a portion of their budget specifically for financial assistance.

As the number of students applying for Winter Term grants increases, a change in policy becomes even more necessary. As of now, the committee’s policy is to prioritize funding a higher number of projects over allocating larger grants, therefore giving smaller amounts per grant. For Winter Term 2016, there were 25 applications for group grants, totaling 275 student spots. Fifty-seven students applied for individual grants, an increase of seven from last year. While there is an option for individual applicants to give the committee permission to access their financial aid information, this is not an option for group grants. As of now, there is no guarantee that low-income students will receive any more financial assistance than students who can otherwise afford to pay the expenses of their chosen project or internship.

As with any institution, Oberlin students vary in their economic privilege or lack thereof. While students who can afford project expenses have the right to apply for grants, there should be policies in place to ensure that priority goes to low-income students. This is a perfect opportunity for the College to demonstrate that it supports low-income students — a mantra that it proudly wears on its sleeve.

In a perfect world, the question of inadequate funding support would be answered with increased contributions toward the fund, whether it be from the College, Conservatory and SFC’s budgets or alumni donations — something that is improbable, if even possible. Perhaps a way to cycle into a system of more sustained support would be to consolidate a list of funding sources both inside and outside of Oberlin. As of now, funding assistance is scattered across various websites, departments and buildings. With consolidation, students would be aware of all project funding opportunities applicable to their project.

For a short project lasting only three and half weeks, students shouldn’t be burdened with finding cheap housing and transportation at the cost of losing a competitive internship or group trip abroad. In a job economy where employment is scarce and obtaining a fixed livable wage is even scarcer, increasing opportunities for low-income students is especially vital in creating a foundation for further success.