Financial Aid at Dartmouth

On financial aid at Dartmouth

On financial aid at Dartmouth

John Smith*, a member of the Class of 2017, didn’t know the true meaning of warmth until his sophomore year of high school. Sitting unwashed in a modest apartment with no warm running water and no electricity, he watched his single mother painstakingly boil water for him and his two siblings to bathe with. Though this was his most severe acquaintance with poverty and his family has seen relatively better times since, he carries this memory with him as an emblem of financial struggles his family faces.

His mother, who currently runs a cleaning service, works long hours tirelessly. The Dartmouth sticker price of tuition is roughly one and a half times her annual income. With the financial aid he receives from Dartmouth, Smith will avoid over $250,000 in potential tuition debt upon graduation, and is deeply grateful for the opportunity he is afforded.

“It’s actually a pretty simple process and really amazing because it’s letting me come to school for practically next to nothing,” Smith, a Yusen Family Scholar, said. “I’m a huge advocate of financial aid at Dartmouth, and I know one day that I’ll give back to this school so that other students might be able to attend without the worries of tuition cost.”

We agree with the precept set forth in the Freedom Budget that students on financial aid should be given the same lifestyle opportunities as other students. Protesters chanting, “Dartmouth has a problem” have addressed many perceived flaws with the school, one of which is the financial aid program. If we don’t confront campus woes unilaterally, our prospects for the future success of The College are bleak. In this spirit, we hope to address the issues The Review and the authors of The Freedom Budget see eye-to-eye on.

There are already several structures in place, however, to afford expanded participation in campus extracurricular life to financial aid students. For example, Members of Greek Organizations and club athletic teams may work off their financial dues, and The College offers funding for unpaid internships to students. Before suggesting how to best improve the nature of our financial aid, it’s important to look some of the numbers.

Dartmouth awarded an average scholarship of $41,380 to the members of the Class of 2017. The Financial Aid Office at Dartmouth offers full tuition for families with incomes of $100,00 or less — that’s 83% of the households in the United States. For some perspective: in 2008, that cutoff was $75,000. By extending the cutoff, Dartmouth has covered nearly 10% more of the population with financial aid. Harvard and Yale only offer free tuition to households below $65,000 in annual income. Our aid program is strong.

Also, the Financial Aid Office offers funding for students interested in LSA and FSP foreign study programs. Furthermore, the Student Employment Office offers hourly wages from $8 to $15 in various jobs that cover nearly all skill sets a student might possess.

Still, given the astronomical cost of books and tuition, it can still be difficult for students who do not have “full rides” to make ends meet. Most student employees, according to the Student Employment Office, work 10 hours a week. For a Dartmouth student, those 10 hours can leave little room for anything beyond studying, working, and sleeping. Improving student wages would help financial aid students participate in the activities that are considered integral to the Dartmouth experience without adding burden to the budget of The College.

So, instead of, as the Freedom Budget suggests, creating funds for airline travel for financial aid students and covering the costs of transportation to off-campus events — which essentially stipulating the nature of which activities a student on financial aid may participate by diktat, why not simply work to help student employees get better wages?

First, why are some student employee’s wages so low? Workers for DDS are highly unionized, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has done a great job of extracting the highest wages and benefits in the Upper Valley — for non-student employees. For example, in 2011, according to a study conducted by The Dartmouth, a union employee at Novack Café made $15.82 an hour, received 25-40 days of paid vacation, enjoyed a Cadillac health plan, and received pension benefits equivalent to 10% of pay. How many Dirty Cowboy baristas or Lou’s waitresses can boast the same pay? Considering the nature of the labor and the risk involved, the compensation and benefits are excessive. DDS knows this too, because they do not extend the same offerings to their student (non-union) employees. An anonymous student employee called the pay “woeful”.

Smith expressed anxieties over covering the extraneous costs of an FSP or an LSA and likewise expressed his excitement that the Freedom Budget addressed these anxieties.

“Part of the reason why Dartmouth was so appealing to me was because of the strength of its foreign studies programs. Sometimes I’m left wondering if I’m actually able to afford these FSPs with all of the extraneous costs,” Smith said. “Though I’m not necessarily sure how financial aid would be able to cover these costs, I think the idea itself is fantastic. It would level the playing field and make certain opportunities available to students like me who might never have had the opportunity to attend an FSP.”

While in a perfect world Dartmouth could cover these costs, it simply is not feasible to currently do so — otherwise it would be doing so. Again, Dartmouth is leading the pack in financial aid, not trailing it. The idea is beautiful, and we can all agree on that. We can realize that dream by increasing student wages, which currently lag behind non-student employee wages at deplorable rates.

*name changed for the sake of the student’s privacy.