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A closer look at the Wooster Fund

On Monday, the Office of Business Affairs celebrated the school’s third annual Tuition Freedom day, in recognition of the generous donations of alumni and other private donors. According to the event’s planners, Monday marked the day that our paid tuition “runs out,” indicating that the remainder of the academic year is paid for by donors. Although donations are a vital component of financial aid at Wooster, it is important to reevaluate the stated significance of these contributions.

The donations towards tuition and student aid are made through the Wooster Fund, a fund managed by the Vice President for Development and Business offices that collects and distributes these donations throughout the school. This fund is said to pay for 40 percent of student costs at Wooster (a stated $14 million to the class of 2014), although each student gets a different scholarship from it.

While all forms of aid are vital for students who would otherwise be unable to pay for college, the administration’s celebration of this fund intentionally overlooks persistent local and systemic problems with Wooster’s affordability.

The Wooster Fund is not solely set up for the sake of student scholarships. Rather, it is a general fund towards campus development that currently devotes only 35 percent of its budget towards student aid. There is no allotted portion of this fund that is specifically devoted towards aid, but rather changes each year under the purview of the Board of Trustees. While the College’s celebration of the Wooster Fund portrays this funding for our education as generous, it does not come close to meeting the financial needs of many students.

Conspicuous projects such as the $30 million Scot Center expansion take up a far greater portion of the school’s roughly $250 million endowment. The constantly rising cost of tuition at Wooster makes the Wooster Fund’s moderate contributions insufficient for† many students who struggle to remain in school. Wooster’s tuition has increased annually by four to 10 percent in the past 10 years, while President Cornwell’s salary is 37 percent higher than that of his predecessor. Clearly, problems with the affordability of a Wooster education reflect problems far deeper than can be solved by private donations.

Instead of welcoming discourse over the rapidly rising cost of education at Wooster, the administration would rather let students know how lucky they are that they don’t pay more. This gesture of appeasement reflects a broader problem in our society: the belief that higher education is a privilege rather than a right. The cost of college tuition in the United States has increased drastically in the past 20 years, a trend that shows no sign of stopping. In just the past 10 years, the average cost of higher education in the U.S. has risen at least twice as much as the general consumer price index.

Many commentators expect that the affordability of college will continue to decrease until higher education becomes an expensive luxury, while federal and state student and scholastic aid has remained largely static.† Americans have remained largely complacent towards this trend, while many Western European countries view free higher public education as a human right, an idea that is decried as radical in our country.

Although Wooster, being a private institution, could not benefit from direct injection of state funding, it is absolutely vital that our students recognize the importance of supporting any and all reform of barriers to affordable higher education, on and off our campus. Students of this generation cannot afford to be happy to accept meager support for their education, but should constantly fight for more.

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