On Nov. 13 and 14, the Student Budget Sustainability Task Force organized all-student meetings to discuss student priorities regarding the University’s budget. Leading the meetings were student members of the Task Force, including Kevin Arritt ’13, Nate Campagne ’15, Michael Linden ’15, Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13, Lan Chi Le ’13, Polina Mamut ’13, Rachel Warren ’14, and Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Zachary Malter ’13.
The first meeting began with an introduction by Malter, who explained the topic and stated his goals for the meeting.
“The bulk of this [meeting] is going to be a conversation,” Malter said. “So it’s going to be people from the audience expressing their views [and] stating their priorities.”
The shift away from need-blind admissions was a major part of the conversation. Malter described the changes to the need-blind policy that will be instated for the incoming class of 2017.
“What the shift entails is that starting this year for first-year domestic applicants, Wes will no longer be need-blind, we will be need-aware,” Malter said. “So what that means is that [admissions] will scrutinize the need of the pool as they begin to accept applications and make necessary adjustments to ensure that they stay within a set budget.”
The administration hopes to bring down the amount of discounted tuition for next year.
“Right now their cap is 32-percent discount,” Malter said. “That means that 32 percent of all revenue that would be received from tuition is going to be discounted for financial aid. The projection is that this will affect 10 percent of decisions based on previous applicant pools, but that is a projection and it will all be based on who applies.”
After Malter finished summarizing the topic of the discussion, the meeting leaders went on to introduce each of the possible budget cuts, which if instated, could help bring back funding for need-blind admissions.
“The purpose of the forum was to communicate the range of possible alternatives to students and see what priorities students had, in order to determine whether those alternatives really were worth considering,” Ross-Silverman said. “This is the depth and breadth of the conversation that I wish the University had been doing a year ago in advance of making this decision.”
Students organizing the meeting hoped to find an alternative to cutting need-blind, and after discussing the budget-cutting options, students in the meetings agreed that some of the options presented sounded viable.
“What came out of the meeting is that none of the options would be uncontroversial,” Ross-Silverman said. “We discussed a few outside-the-box ideas like different tuition models, selling woodframes or other parts of our real estate portfolios to private companies, and moving more toward a work-college model or phasing out [existing] jobs that students could do [instead].”
Many of the proposed ideas were based on the all-student survey that the Task Force had compiled. Each idea was calculated to save the University approximately one million dollars. These suggestions included facility downsizing, reducing faculty or staff, reducing student activities, and tuition changes.
Some cuts were not appealing to students present at the meeting. While students felt that the meeting was helpful, some disagreed with the options presented.
“The meeting really helped me come to terms with losing need-blind admissions,” said Caleb Hayhoe ’16, one of the students in attendance. “While I’m still not happy with need-blind disappearing from our campus, I realize that there are very few other options to consider. I definitely don’t support cuts like selling the woodframe houses.”
Still, other students made it clear that the accessibility of a Wesleyan education was their first priority, and that they were willing to make sacrifices to change it. At the Wednesday meeting, some students were particularly interested in moving to a work-study model of education, which would incorporate more student labor into the maintenance and management of the University.
However, despite student efforts to think of new ways to trim the budget, the administration has stated that it does not guarantee the reinstatement of need-blind even if they can find the funds to support it.
“The idea was, if we could show that need-blind is feasible, if we could trim the budget or add revenue sufficiently, then we would have a strong case to argue for keeping need-blind and would prompt a response from the administration,” Ross-Silverman said. “Unfortunately, it’s clear that none of the cuts that are possible are win-win, and even those that students might find acceptable may face extreme opposition from faculty or staff.”
The students organizing the meeting stated that they wish to continue to gather student opinions on the University’s budget.
“We hope to be able to provide input to the University on how they can better involve the community in major financial decisions in the future,” Ross-Silverman said. “Some other members of the Task Force and I would like to push further for a commitment to actively find ways to expand the financial aid budget to restore need-blind admission, but we haven’t decided on any official stance yet.”