Wesleyan Student Assembly

Opinion

The Student Solution

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

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3 Comments

  1. dblindermanJune 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Zach,

    First of all, great proposal. I’ll be abroad this coming semester and am pretty upset that I won’t be there to personally support the effort to keep Wes need blind. We all have so many chance conversations and debates about this issue everyday. I’ve heard literally dozens of ideas (only a fraction of which I can remember) that I think could really help Wesleyan and keep Wes fully need blind.

    My concern about your proposal is actual power. You are essentially proposing that the university acquiesce to the creation of a student committee to study the problem and give a recommendation. The problem is that they would be under no obligation to follow it and the students would have no legislative or administrative power to actually push the plan in the forum that matters, the board of trustees. I fear that this committee could wind up the way that so many WSA committees end up, that is to say it will generate a lot of ideas but will ultimately it will be accorded only token consideration by the administration simply because we the students don’t actually have votes.

    My personal suggestion would be to push for more. This issue is one of only a handful that both unites the student body and generates energy and interest. You and the rest of the WSA are always bemoaning the lack of student engagement. If we play our cards right, I don’t think that will be an issue here. I think you should, in conduction with this idea, push for the creation of some kind of mechanism where student representatives are given tangible voting power concerning matters of tuition and finical aid, not simply a forum to advise. This could take the form of students sitting on the board, student referenda on certain issues etc. I know this is a bit ambitious, but if there was ever a time (or a place) to push an idea like this, it is here and now. These are policies that control who will go to school with us and what kind of community we will live and learn in. Who are friends will be, who are classmates will be and the kind of expierences we will share will all be determined by this and other policies. Time to suit up and think big!

    Keep Wes need blind!

  2. rshenkerJune 16, 2012 at 4:44 am

    I highly doubt the student task force will be able to identify the millions of dollars of increased revenue and spending cuts that would be required to keep Wesleyan need blind, pay down our 200 million dollar debt, allow the University to grant new construction projects/hire more faculty/etc, and grow the endowment. Also, I’m sick and tired of spending cuts! I noticed them in my four years at Wesleyan and they need to stop. The school desperately needs a new Molecular and Life Sciences Building to replace Shanklin. We need a new theater, more dormitories and commissaries as the student body grows, and more faculty to keep class sizes small and ensure every student can take the classes they want. If that means going need-aware for a while so be it!

  3. Gerpha GerlinJune 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Thank you for such an informative and direct piece. I just hope that future posts will have a more positive tone–one that implies that admissions for the less financially apt won’t become more difficult.

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