On the housing policy
Posted on February 3, 2012
The strength of Wheaton College lies in its community and that truth has never been more apparent than in recent days.
Our announcement on Tuesday of plans to charge more for living in certain types of residences has engendered vigorous conversation, online and off, among students, faculty and staff, as well as alumnae/i, parents and friends. The thoughtfulness and passion of your views affirm how much you care about Wheaton, and for that I am truly grateful.
I expect that we will discuss the housing issue a great deal more, and I thought it might be helpful to share some context for the policy change as the conversation continues.
The housing proposal is part of a comprehensive set of strategies that the college has undertaken to cope with a challenging economic environment. Like most colleges, Wheaton has felt the impact of the recession that began in 2008, and that has deeply affected so many families’ ability to access higher education. As a result, we have increased our spending on student financial aid by more than $8 million since 2009, and we have taken every opportunity to reduce expenses. In fact the college has reduced its budget by more than $5 million in that time period.
At the same time, we recognize that it is vitally important for the college to increase revenue, outside of tuition, to invest in the programs and facilities upon which students depend. (The campus response to the major renovations made to the Meadows housing complex, for example, underscores the impact of improving student housing.) We are looking at many opportunities, including the expansion of summer programs, to enhance Wheaton’s revenue.
The decision to establish a differential room fee is informed by a careful study of similar institutions that already follow this policy, such as Skidmore, Gettysburg and Kenyon colleges. It also seems important to point out that this policy avoids increasing residential housing costs for all students. In this economic environment, controlling the cost of education is essential to ensure access to Wheaton for a broad diversity of students.
I realize there are countervailing perspectives to consider—costs that relate to Wheaton’s core values. As many of you have pointed out, the change in policy could heighten socioeconomic distinctions on campus, creating separate student groups and undermining the unifying power of our diverse campus community. This is a concern that must be considered carefully. However, if the policy is implemented thoughtfully and strategically, we believe we can mitigate its potential divisive effects. We plan to explore such ideas in our conversations with you. We do not want to undermine the inclusive nature of Wheaton’s campus community, from which students gain so much.
The concern of students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, parents and friends helps to strengthen Wheaton’s distinctive collaborative community. I see your contributions in every aspect of the college’s life, and I know the college is much the better for your engagement.