Given the decision to increase tuition at Oberlin College and Conservatory by 3.9 percent for the 2015-2016 academic year, we continue to update and engage the community—especially students—in a discussion of our shared concerns about the affordability of an Oberlin education and our commitment to socioeconomic diversity. This is a national discussion and many of our peer institutions face similar challenges and tough choices. In order to continue meeting 100 percent of each eligible student’s demonstrated need, the financial aid budget will increase to an estimated $63 million in 2015-2016. On campus, we have released more information over the past several weeks about this important issue and we plan to continue this practice. President Krislov addressed the issue of affordability in his President’s Desk column on April 30, and an interview focused on the tuition increase between President Krislov and Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen also published recently in the Source has garnered significant attention. Mike Frandsen has presented in the last couple of weeks on the finances of the institution in several venues, including a well-attended open forum where senior administrators answered a range of very thoughtful and important questions from students. Senior administrators have met with smaller groups of concerned students and are eager to continue being highly visible and accessible as our conversations continue.
We are committed to an open, campus-wide discussion of accessibility and affordability, an important aspect of the ongoing discussion of college finances. In fact, this conversation is already taking place not just in recent meetings with students but also within established processes and committees. Just this past week, a publicly released preliminary report from the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and Working Groups—which includes nine student representatives—recognized in strong language that “in a future in which there is little prospect of revenue growth from tuition due to in part the increasing demand for financial aid and in part to the public and media outcry regarding tuition hikes and student debt burdens, Oberlin must make thoughtful choices now about where to invest our resources, determine which of our many worthy goals should have priority, and how best to position ourselves moving forward.” This sentiment was echoed by President Krislov, who observed that “the current course of endless tuition increases is clearly not sustainable” in his recent President’s Desk column. The preliminary strategic planning report also strongly reaffirms our commitment “to develop even more effective institutional structures to achieve measurable goals related to equity, diversity, and inclusion” among our core values. Student, faculty, and staff members of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and Working Groups are holding multiple open sessions to discuss this important draft document and solicit feedback from our entire community. All members of the community are encouraged to read the preliminary report and offer feedback through the form linked to the document.
In his discussion with President Krislov, Mike Frandsen offered that “student voices have been indirect in the process [to this point], and there is probably an opportunity for more direct input from students.” To ensure this direct input, we continue to solicit the passionate and meaningful participation of students in the ongoing conversations on these issues. For example, there is significant representation of students in the strategic planning process. Important discussions about admissions and financial aid policy and procedures happens through the standing General Faculty Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid. We would ask that Student Senate appoint the student representatives for this important committee as soon as possible for next year. A Campus Climate Team created this semester and led by Meredith Raimondo, special assistant to the president for equity, diversity and inclusion, and Eric Estes, vice president and dean of students, will also be charged with taking up this conversation. Please contact them if you are interested in participating. Mike Frandsen is willing to meet with a Student Senate working group about these issues next year. Over the past year, students have been actively involved in numerous discussions with individual members of the Board of Trustees as well as Board committees regarding such assorted subjects as socially responsible investing, health and wellness services, and peer mentoring and education efforts. Students have also served on the Board's Impact Investment Subcommittee. We are committed to continuing to explore future possibilities for enhancing the Board's engagement with students still further, as we believe that students should have appropriate access to a range of information about institutional decision-making processes. At the same time, the decisions themselves must remain the purview of established faculty and administrative governance entities and the Board of Trustees.
The sharing of important and appropriate information can help facilitate our discussions. Information like the average net price by income bracket is available on the College Navigator webpage. Additional financial data is publicly available on the Office of the Controller’s website. Information is also included in reports we make to the federal government. Information about the operating budget and financial aid are public and have been presented in numerous settings. In order to facilitate the sharing of information—both information requested and information released by the institution—the Campus Climate Team will create a website this summer where information can be housed and made publicly available moving forward.
Financial accessibility and affordability is a difficult but important challenge with significant implications for how we live our commitments and values as a community. It will be a challenge to identify priorities and make difficult choices about finances, but the strength of our community has always been defined by our active engagement with the most meaningful challenges of the day.