Last week, in his blog post “Sustainable Affordability”, President Roth officially laid out his plan to scale back Wesleyan’s need-blind policy. By becoming need-aware for a small portion of the applicant pool, Wesleyan will no longer wait until after admissions decisions are made to budget for financial aid for the year and, as a result, will be able to cap tuition increases without raising loan levels.
In his blog post, President Roth presented the plan as a way to prevent Wesleyan from becoming less affordable: it will allow Wesleyan to keep tuition increases to levels near inflation and to give generous financial aid packages with minimal loan levels to students who attend Wesleyan. Still, the plan has upset many students, alumni, and parents because it goes against a principle that we hold dear, namely that Wesleyan will make admissions decisions without considering an applicant’s ability to pay. In other words, how can Wesleyan criticize and challenge socio-economic inequality, if its admissions policy reinforces that very inequality by offering an advantage to students from wealthier families? Many community members are also concerned that the plan will decrease the future socioeconomic diversity of Wesleyan.
President Roth, who originally regarded preserving need-blind for domestic, first-year applicants as a core tenet of his strategic plan, views his proposal as a last resort or a necessary evil, with only two alternatives: either raising tuition and loans to steep and unsustainable levels or significantly compromising the quality of a Wesleyan education. To his credit, President Roth has made scores of cuts during his tenure and has cancelled two major capital projects in an effort to save money and redirect funds towards financial aid. Yet, whether there is more room for cost-savings and revenue generation that does not significantly compromise the quality of education remains an open question. President Roth claims that the administration has already made all the possible cuts of inessentials and has already explored all the possible revenue generating options. But what if students had the chance to brainstorm cost-saving measures and give direct budget input? Put differently, if students are willing to protest the scaling back of need-blind, they should also be prepared to propose alternative cost-saving solutions that will defray the real costs of a need-blind policy.
In this spirit, I am proposing the creation of a Student Budget Sustainability Task Force, charged with identifying areas for cuts and devising creative ideas for new revenue and costs savings. This group of committed students would meet intensively and work assiduously to make recommendations to the administration before the Board of Trustees meets again in November, and no need-blind related decisions should be finalized until then. The Task Force would also work to supplement President Roth’s proposal for a three-year bachelor’s degree track by brainstorming other ways to make Wesleyan more affordable for all students.
For this task force to be effective, it will need to have access to budget information in great depth and have the opportunity to ask administrators specific budget questions. It will also need to know the full range of cuts that were considered or implemented in the past and the magnitude of various cuts relative to the amount needed to preserve need-blind financial aid for domestic, first-year applicants. Lastly, it will need to collaborate extensively with the faculty and administrators who, like students, will feel the effects of any budget cuts.
Wesleyan students are smart and creative problem-solvers, and with the necessary information and scholarship, may be able to come up with some powerful ideas to improve the budget sustainability and affordability of Wesleyan. The Task Force will also provide students with an invaluable educational experience, one that embodies the “practical idealism” central to Wesleyan’s mission.
Wesleyan is in a tough financial position, and creating the Budget Sustainability Task Force does not guarantee any major results. That being said, the administration should give the student solution a chance, going beyond token transparency to empower students to help meaningfully address Wesleyan’s financial issues.
– Zachary Malter ’13, Student Body President