C.O.W. tuition increased 4.6 percent in 2013. This was my junior year and I was anxious. The sticker price of our education exceeded $50,000 before additional expenses, and I was also shouldering bills for my family at the time. I advocated for tuition transparency alongside the Wooster Student Union (WSU), but the administration met us with apathy, bemusement and ridicule. We didn’t ask for a tuition freeze; we just wanted to know where our (loan) money was going. We questioned the sitting president’s salary — Grant Cornwell’s base compensation was over $300,000 — and emphasized that solutions proposed by the financial office didn’t address our problem; in some cases such solutions even failed to assist international students. The odds were stacked against us. After a year of organizing, the movement dissolved when the majority of WSU graduated.
I graduated from C.O.W. six years ago and have only recently secured my first salaried job upon completing my Master’s, and 70 grand of student debt looms over my head. It felt like fate when, during my research at said job, I stumbled across a current C.O.W. student — Maggie Dougherty ’21 — advocating for a tuition lock. This isn’t the first or second time a student has taken to the Voice regarding tuition; in 2014, Jai Ranchod ’15 estimated that by 2024 tuition would reach $73,000, and in 2017, Evan White ’18 wrote a viewpoint expressing continued frustration with the lack of transparency accompanying tuition hikes. Do students really have to keep addressing this? What will it take for C.O.W. to seriously evaluate the cost-benefit of a liberal arts education, especially taking into account that a Bachelor of Arts isn’t what it was ten years ago?
The fact is that the current cost of a four-year education at C.O.W. is $267,000. I’m sure the Financial Office, President Bolton, four vice presidents and roughly sixteen deans/associates will take the usual stance: students may apply for more loans or need-based aid. But with the burgeoning student debt crisis, the struggle for living wages and healthcare, the widening gap between upper-income households and middle- and lower-income households; is it worth it anymore?
I’m sure there are alumni who are living sustainable, happy lives, who aren’t working multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. Even still, I hope that C.O.W. takes into consideration what students like Maggie Doughtery, Jai Ranchod, Evan White and I have said. Even if C.O.W. is falling in line with every other college, these hikes make education a privilege few can afford and continues to marginalize students who are trying to do what we are told in order to succeed.
Close to the end of WSU’s campaign, President Cornwell approached me and two other members outside of Andrews Library and said point-blank, “You think I should take a pay cut.” It was an egregious flex in which he failed to consider that he was making a yearly salary worth more than a cumulative four years at Wooster for one student. I find it troublesome that those with money continue to try and convince those without that somehow we are unreasonable for believing that education — a stepping stone towards a better quality of life, as they say — should be affordable.
The global pandemic has further deepened the cracks between the upper-class and everyone outside of it. What direction is Wooster going?