SFAP Statement to Board of Managers

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Statement to Board of Managers From the Student Financial Advisory Panel

The Student Financial Advisory Panel (SFAP) was formed in the Fall of 2009 to increase dialogue between students and the administration on matters of the Ad Hoc Financial Planning Group. Comprised of both appointed and elected members of the student body, SFAP has worked to gather student concerns on the recent budget recommendations through a series of forums and meetings held throughout the semester. Students are energized and opinionated about the budget cut, and would like to be included in the decision-making process.

We, the members of the Student Financial Advisory Panel (SFAP), respectfully submit our recommendations based on student reaction to the proposed budget adjustments for your consideration. We will focus on distribution of the cuts, the implementation within the different functions of the school, and the processes through which decisions have been made.

I. Distribution of Budget Cuts

As students, we recognize that Swarthmore College is a competitive school that must be comparable with peer institutions; yet we believe that in spite of the economic crisis, Swarthmore will maintain its social values and ethical community by sustaining current levels of funding for sacred components of Swarthmore’s program such as honors, financial aid, health benefits and fair compensation.

SFAP would like to voice the concerns of the student body at the Ad Hoc Financial Planning Group’s proposal to cut Financial Aid by $457,000. Such cuts begin to compromise the college experience of students on financial aid and the student body as a whole. Although we respect the concept of “shared burden” established by the Ad Hoc Group, we fear that balancing our budget deficit by restructuring financial aid will unevenly impact aided students. The current options for restructuring financial aid include increasing term-time and summer-time work requirement expectations or the reintroduction of loans. We will describe how these proposed changes, if implemented, would profoundly alter the basic experiences of aided students:

For decades the school has not increased the number of hours an aided student is expected to work each week; presumably 7.5 hours has been understood as the maximum amount a Swarthmore student can afford to work while balancing a full course schedule. Increasing the number of work hours will impact students in many ways: class preparation, course and major selection, lecture attendance, unpaid club, committee and student council positions, internships and volunteer tutoring etc. We believe that financial aid is not simply about recruiting and sustaining an economically diverse student population, but also about supporting aided students until they graduate.

Often, though not universally, aided students take longer to adjust to and navigate the resources at Swarthmore; they may, for example, have had less exposure to academic writing, research skills, advanced computer networks and scientific technologies. This means that aided students are often already disadvantaged by a term-time work requirement. The proposed increase in weekly work hours will present more stressful challenges for many of our aided students. It is in the college’s best interest to ensure that these students can thrive here.

Secondly, student jobs have been and will be cut from facilities, the Deans Office, Academic Departments and Libraries. This will make increasing student work hours difficult, especially because off-campus jobs are not available in the borough of Swarthmore. Furthermore, as student jobs are decreased as term-time work hours are increased, there will be more explicit divisions between aided student who must work campus jobs and the rest of the student body.

Summertime work requirements have been criticized for standing in the way of students’ ability to pursue unpaid internships and volunteer work in areas of interest. Internships and volunteer work help build students’ resumes and serve as crucial experiences and skill-building opportunities for Swarthmore students. The Swarthmore 2020 Planning Group made this clear when they requested that Swarthmore work to eliminate at least one summer work component. Secondly, many students rely on Swarthmore research and Lang-center grants to get their summer earnings. As hiring slows and paid internships become volunteer positions, more students will be applying for fewer Swarthmore grants in an increasingly competitive job market. International students, in particular, will be burdened by an increase in summer-time work expectation due to the variability of employment opportunities in home countries, and the additional costs of returning home for the summer.

The reintroduction of loans has been presented as a problematic option because Swarthmore just went loan-free last year. Students do not want to see loans reintroduced especially because job opportunities after college are becoming rarer, and repaying a loan may become a burden on some students. However, if the proposed adjustment to financial aid is approved, students request that they be involved in the decisions about restructuring financial aid, and would like a fuller discussion about reintroducing loans of the wealthier end of aided students.

SFAP argues that restructuring financial aid—particularly increasing the termtime work requirements—will profondly affect the academic culture and social life of all students. While Swarthmore’s economic—and to some extent ethnic—diversity is a privilege of the College’s wealth, financial aid has come to embody the socially conscious thinking that is Swarthmore’s trademark. Economic and racial diversity on Swarthmore’s campus are inseparable from the academic rigor and social experience at Swarthmore. A diverse student body enriches the classroom experience by bringing multiple perspectives and analyses to the conversation. Increasing work hours undermines aided students’ ability to be prepared for class, to engage in critical dialogues outside of classrooms, to bring diverse events to campus, and to participate in the social life of the school. We firmly believe that the values Swarthmore teaches in its classrooms are sustained by the dedication and participation of a diverse student body.

II. Decision-making processes and implementation of Phase 2

Initially, Swarthmore students were dissatisfied with the lack of student representation on the ad hoc financial planning group. We greatly appreciate the administration’s willingess to work with SFAP, and have found our meetings very productive. We would like to continue with this spirit of cooperation and openness as the budget discussions move forward in three ways:

First, we want active student involvement in the implementation of the Phase 2 budget cuts in those areas pertinent to student life. We believe the Deans’ Office, academic departments, athletics, libraries, and financial aid office fall under this jurisdiction. Students can not only offer insight into what areas will significantly impact students (e.g. reduction of student positions and hours coupled with an increase in term-time work requirements), but can also propose creative solutions (e.g. alterations to the Student Academic Mentor (SAM) program as a way to afford new flexibility within the budget). Student Council plans to mobilize relevant student committees, interested students, and its own members throughout the spring semester.

Second, we would like to increase the capabilities of students in the handling of the presently undecided $1.1M. Students on the College Budget Committee (CBC) work with the President and President’s Staff under normal operating procedures. We would like to ensure that the student members of the CBC have meaningful say and sufficient access to budgetary information. We do not want students to lose the opportunity that we have had this semester to participate in the dialogue surrounding momentous alterations to the budget of the college, particularly as it becomes more and more difficult to identify non-essential portions of the budget.

Third, we look forward to initiating a dialogue with the administration about student involvement in the strategic direction-setting process starting in the 2010-11 academic year. We greatly appreciate President Chopp’s invitation to discuss the structure of this process.

We realize that there are legitimate limits to student involvement throughout budget processes, but hope that SFAP and members of the Board of Managers can work together to ensure that Swarthmore College actively includes students in these pressing matters.

Thank you for your time and for your consideration,

Members of the Student Financial Advisory Panel

Rachel Bell ‘10
Nathaniel Erskine ‘10
Anjali Jaiman ‘10
Jung Min (Kevin) Kim ‘11
Nick Malinak ‘11
Robert Manduca ‘10
Daniel Symonds ‘11
Simon Zhu ‘11

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