1. What is the relationship between Oberlin College and the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA)?
OSCA is an independent 501(c)(7) non-profit organization, whose membership consists of Oberlin College students. As a separate legal entity, the College’s legal and financial relationship with OSCA is defined by a contract. This agreement gives OSCA permission to use College housing and dining facilities.
2. What about the College’s housing and dining requirement?
In order for OSCA to have a viable membership base, the College will grant a maximum of 565 dining exemptions and 183 housing exemptions to OSCA for use within its membership. OSCA will purchase exemptions to the College’s housing and dining requirement on behalf of its members. The cumulative cost of the exemptions will constitute OSCA’s rent under the Lease.
3. What was the process and goals for negotiations between the College and OSCA?
A team of Oberlin College administrators, alumni, and student leaders has met nearly every week for a year and a half to develop a new contract that achieves the goals of the One Oberlin report in regard to equity and financial sustainability. In particular, the report identified the high-value learning experience provided by OSCA, but also a $1.9 million negative impact on the College’s operating budget, largely related to foregone revenue from students participating in OSCA rather than in College housing and dining programs. The One Oberlin report, which the General Faculty endorsed and the Board of Trustees approved, called on the College to eliminate substantially this budget impact in a way that helped lead OSCA to financial and programmatic sustainability.
OSCA leadership was encouraged to include professional advisors, including budget managers and legal counsel, throughout the process. After a robust discussion of a wide range of issues, OSCA made a proposal on October 26, 2020, the College presented a counter proposal on November 13, 2020, and the College offered OSCA a five-year commercial lease on November 24, 2020.
4. Were the proposals far apart?
The terms of the proposals were relatively close. The College admires OSCA’s appreciation of the very real financial difficulties the College faces. As a result of this mutual understanding, OSCA’s initial proposal contained a rent increase that was only $116,000 lower than the new lease.
5. How does the proposed contract address concerns about equity among Oberlin students?
The new lease seeks to address inequity by charging OSCA rent based on the revenue that each housing and dining participant would otherwise contribute to the operating budget through housing and dining fees, rather than a flat fee. This means students in College and OSCA housing and dining will contribute the same amount of net revenue to the operating budget. Cost difference between the College’s ResLife offerings and OSCA’s offerings will reflect the different operating costs in each model.
Under the new lease, OSCA members will contribute the same as students in ResLife; all students will be contributing equitably to the net operating budget, which pays for things like student aid, academic programs, faculty salaries, etc.
6. What about the work contribution and its impact on cost?
Each year the College will charge OSCA for the foregone revenue it would have collected for each housing and dining student released to participate in OSCA. It does not, however, control OSCA pricing, as OSCA is a separate legal entity. The work “discount” is reflected in the price that OSCA sets based on its own budget model (rent plus operating costs) when compared with the College’s ResLife pricing. Unlike the College, OSCA does not have to hire custodians, dining workers, and other staff, and so does not need to include these costs in its pricing.
7. How does this contract benefit OSCA?
The proposed five-year contract treats each OSCA student the same way that a student in College housing and dining is treated by asking them to contribute the same revenue towards College operating expenses. It also provides a structure to OSCA that allows it to plan more effectively, by allowing OSCA to purchase different numbers of student exemptions each year up to a cap, should membership vary. OSCA will not find itself in a financial crisis based on its obligations to the College because the new lease only requires OSCA to pay for the space and memberships for which there is demand. The pricing structure of this lease permits OSCA long-term financial viability, without membership or enrollment pressures.
8. Why are the cost changes effective immediately rather than being phased in?
The College is committed to working with individual families affected by the change. We recognize that for some, the increased costs of attendance will result in an increase in aid (because the College meets full need). However, it is not appropriate to leave an inequitable situation without remedy for a period of time. For example, phasing in only half the cost of the housing increase in a year would mean that 183 ResLife housing students would contribute nearly half a million dollars more than 183 OSCA housing students toward the College operating budget in a single academic year.
9. Does the College recognize the value OSCA contributes to the education of its participants?
The One Oberlin report embraces “the distinctive and historically significant learning experience OSCA provides, which is a valuable contribution to Oberlin’s co-curriculum” (21). The College strongly affirms the profound impact of OSCA on generations of Obies and offers a lease designed to allow both the College and OSCA to plan together to take on the financial and enrollment challenges facing higher education.
10. How is Oberlin investing in OSCA?
The College will continue to assume operating costs for the buildings OSCA uses. This contribution includes investing in OSCA via building maintenance and improvement (such as have occurred in Harkness over the past two years). The College is also committed to representing OSCA among the housing and dining options in its admission process and to assist OSCA in developing an effective marketing plan for resumption of operations when COVID-19 permits. Finally, the contract focuses only on equitable contribution of revenue meansing a total rent increase for 2021 – 2022 of $1.2 million over current rates, far less than originally contemplated by the One Oberlin report. By choosing to focus on revenue rather than the total budget impact of OSCA, the College intends to offer a financial model that allows a reasonable increase to OSCA rates that still allows OSCA to thrive.
11. What about financial aid for students who participate in OSCA as compared to the College?
The College implements a financial aid policy that is equitable to all students. It does that by assessing student need through a series of calculations and then assigning aid accordingly. The core principle of equitable financial aid is that students should receive support equal to their educational costs. The College has a policy of adjusting financial aid amounts to students who do not participate in its housing and dining programs to reflect the lower costs of these options, as they have lower overall costs than students on campus. The College is reviewing the relationship of financial aid to the expected increase in OSCA prices under the lease in order to ensure it maintains this equity principle.