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Silent Cost Increases, Too

Nickel.jpgDisappointment is the word I would use to describe student sentiment regarding recent College budgetary decisions. There seems to be a malaise in the administration: a weak-kneed response to budget pressures and a cheerful enthusiasm for drawing ever more revenue from Dartmouth students — all the while leaving the fundamentals of the Dartmouth experience stagnant. Whereas budget reductions in the past were largely unnoticed (as a student, I did not observe any change in services after the College’s layoffs and early retirements), these recent changes directly affect students. We are spending more, sure, but not seeing any improvements to our education.

The College’s recent announcement of budget-gap-closing measures does not tell the whole story. New “transfer fees” are just one of many ways in which students are being used to generate revenue.

My fraternity, for example, has recently been warned that the College is enforcing a new rule concerning the house parking lot. These lots are owned by the College; traditionally they have been leased to fraternities for a flat rate. Fraternities resold these spots at cost to their members ($40/term), and they would often sell other spots to non-members at a surcharge. The convenience of parking close to campus for a term was often worth $100 to unaffiliated students. Members got to park at their house for a fee equal to what the College charges them to park at a lot that’s three quarters of a mile away. Under the newly announced parking policy, the College is now charging fraternities $150 per spot, which the fraternity must pay or else the College itself will resell the spots.

The parking regime at the College has been documented by this space before, but now we have some context. If you are a faculty member, you can park for an entire term on Webster Avenue for $70. If you are a service employee, you can park there for $27. Students will now pay $150/term for the privilege (or be relegated to a distant lot for $45/term). That seems a strange ordering of priorities for the College, don’t you think?

There is more. Dartmouth has legendary parking fines and fees. Bringing a vehicle to Hanover as a Dartmouth student can be a huge liability if you accidentally put your car in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, I was once dropping off some boxes at the Channing Cox cluster at 4:30AM with a friend in his SUV. He left his car for 15 minutes in a poorly marked “fire lane”. We returned to a $100 ticket for the offense.

On another occasion, I watched a movie with friends in Channing Cox and left my car in the outside lot. It was ticketed for $50 at 2:30AM for being in the lot past the appropriate time of 2AM. I guess that I risked interfering with morning staff parking. I approximate that my trusty 1996 Honda Civic Hatchback has cost me more than $300 in parking fines since I brought it to campus last fall. All of these honest mistakes eat up a sizable portion of my on-campus job earnings. The minimum parking fine is $50, and an appeal requires turning in a handwritten form to an obscure College office (I’ve tried unsuccessfully on more than one occasion).

On some level, I don’t mind the recently announced tuition hikes as much as these silent costs; after all, if you charge what the market will pay (and match it with a strong commitment to financial aid), you can bring in more revenue and retain the quality of the institution. Furthermore, in a competitive environment, the administration’s price-hiking ambitions will be tempered by competition from our peer institutions.

Supplementary costs like Dartmouth’s parking fines and fees, outrageous prices from Dartmouth Dining Services ($4.50 for a 12 oz. bottle of Odwalla), and new “transfer fees” are less principled ways of raising revenue from a captive student market. Who’s responsible? Dartmouth would be better off if the administration stopped its nickel-and-diming revenue gambits. Charge students fairly, up front, and minimize these ongoing silent costs. They leave students with a bitter taste and a distinct sense that the College is not being run for their benefit.

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