The new housing policy sparked widespread discussion among the student body at Wheaton College this week. While many claimed that the new policy would cause economic segregation, others argued that none of the Wheaton dorms deserved to be called “premium” and cost more.
On Tue Feb 7, the Wheaton Housing Fee Forum took place at the Hindle Auditorium with more than 200 students in attendance. Initiated by Student Government Association (SGA) and the Senate, the forum served as a platform for students to hear the administration’s position and address their own concerns. Dean of Students Lee Williams was in attendance to answer students’ concerns about the policy.
Williams explained that the new housing policy served as a means to resolve the dramatic decline of Wheaton’s endowment. She explained that five percent of the endowment and interest functioned as the college’s operational budget. She then added that Wheaton had lost about a quarter of its endowment due to the 2008 financial crisis, adding up to approximately 2.5 million dollars.
Another financial difficulty, Williams explained, was that this year’s incoming class requested more financial aid than in previous years. Williams said to the students, “Wheaton stepped up to help you meet [your] needs because we want to keep you here.”
According to Williams, although 80 percent of Wheaton’s spending came from students’ fees, 35 percent of those fees were returned to students in the form of scholarships and financial aid in order to keep a lively and diverse student body.
However, Wheaton’s deficit forced the college to make some tough decisions. Williams explained that in order to maintain the core values of the college and offer a high quality education, Wheaton administration was under extensive pressure to weigh costs and benefits, and ‘what to cut’ became an extremely difficult question to answer.
“If you were me, if you were us [the administration], what choice would you make?” Williams said honestly about the difficulty of their decision.
She added, “We tried to be as transparent as possible.”
After Williams’ speech, students followed with various questions and comments.
Brian Jencunus ’14 indicated that this policy would “change the face of Wheaton.” He questioned why the college proposed charging premium expenses for dorms but not other facilities and on-campus opportunities. Ultimately, Jencunas proposed an equal rise in all housing costs, saying. “If we suffer, we all suffer together,” he said.
Judith Gil ’13 who worked at the Financial Aid office, questioned whether there would be an adjustment in financial aid packages to compensate for the rise in housing costs.
Adriana Mistick ’12 spoke on behalf of the theme houses. “We want to reapply, but we need to know the price,” she said. She indicated that raising the costs of the theme houses would weaken the theme house culture.
Dean Williams was quick to assure the audience. “Theme houses are not going to die,” she said.
However, many students still left the forum with uncertainty about how the policy was going to be implemented, and whether their input had any effect at all.
“Does the conversation we have here actually make a difference?” asked Kachi Udeoji ’12.
Patricia Kaishian ’13 said, “I just don’t think this policy is ready to be implemented.”
After answering each question and concern, Williams asked to vote on whether students would prefer a flat rate increase or a tier rise on housing fees. The majority of students voted for equal housing costs.
Williams indicated that the school administration was still working on the details, but would definitely take students’ opinions into consideration. She wrapped up the forum saying, “It’s a privilege to be a Dean at Wheaton.”
Many students were satisfied with the answers provided by Williams.
Beard Hall resident Jocelyn Ryan-Small ’14 said, “It is important to come together and hear from my fellow peers.”
“After Dean Williams addressed that there are different options and she and the Board of Trustees are definitely taking [student opinions] into consideration. I do feel a little bit more optimistic,” Susan Rodriguez ’13 said.
However, some students thought differently.
“I think they should give more solid answers,” said Samuel Lawrence ’14, expecting more finalized details on the policy.
“It remains to be seen. I hope they could listen to the students, but I’m skeptical,” said Clay Evans ’12.
“This is an ongoing conversation. Everything everybody said will be on the table in our conversation. I’m so appreciative of [the] time that students took to come and speak,” said Williams.