By Cody Funderburk, Staff Writer
On March 14th, an email was sent announcing and explaining Warren Wilson’s intention to offset a current financial shortage by increasing housing costs for students staying over break. This has caused minor concern among the student body, but according to the Work Program Office “not as much as anticipated.” The intention of the strategy is to break-even on deficits, while maintaining student flexibility by allowing for more meal-plan options. Currently, the school plans to provide four options to students who stay over break: they may live off-campus entirely, they may live on campus without a meal plan, or they may live on campus with a meal plan of either fourteen or nineteen meals each week. These options allow for more flexibility because, previously, students were required to have a meal plan while staying over break.
However, “this has ramifications that aren’t widely known” according to Carli Damien of the Accounting Office. “Warren Wilson College must have a facility that provides meals. If the number of meals served is reduced, then income is reduced, however, the bills associated with having the venue do not decrease.” This means that even though students may omit a summer-time meal plan to save money, the school must provide meals anyway. As a result, the school is susceptible to losing income on the forfeited meals and the cost of operating the cafeteria. Since these cost-oriented policies are a new imposition, the college is merely testing the waters with these adjustments, and, depending on their effect, the college may choose to revoke the policy.
To provide a bit of background on housing, previous room and board rates were established when the college was financially capable of subsidizing the cost of room and board for students. The subsidization took effect to encourage students to stay and work over break since certain jobs and facilities still need to be maintained, even when the school is technically closed. At the time, the school only paid minimum wage, and even after student wages increased to $8.50/hour, the cost of housing didn’t increase. According to Damien, “the cost of summer room and board has not increased in the seven years [she’s] been here.” But since Wilson is currently experiencing a financial crunch, the college can no longer afford to subsidize student housing, therefore the prices have to rise.
Even though the housing prices have increased, there doesn’t seem to be a projected lack in student workers this summer. Last year, the school received 297 employment applications for summer break, whereas this year there has been 267 so far. This indicates that the summertime work force of the campus hasn’t been reduced too dramatically. “Having reviewed break applications and listened to students concerns,” says Melaine Kemp of the Work Program Office, “it is evident that A) there are less students hoping to live on campus, and B) a true need for those that do live on campus to receive 40 hour contracts.”
There are other aspects of the strategy that have been meticulously devised by the college to combat the current financial problems. The idea is to cut back moderately on a variety of areas to compensate for the increased financial stress in a balanced way. Some examples of these cutbacks include reducing break contracts, reducing contracts for additional hours, reducing day-student contracts, and reducing crew food expenditures. Most of these alterations are just being tested to see how effectively they impact the budget downfall. Long term, the school aims to increase student enrollment as a means of generating income. If all goes well, the range of initiatives adopted by the school will help to ease financial troubles and to create stability.
The research for this article has demonstrated how Warren Wilson very carefully negotiated the need for facility maintenance and student workers, while being mindful and respectful of the needs of students and staff. These cutbacks are not likely to be severe or otherwise interfere with the functioning of the school, but only time will tell if the imposed strategies are sufficient to mitigate the fiscal problems afflicting the college.