Room and Board

JOSEPH REILLY ’18 | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF • College is expensive. There’s no way around it. With rising costs and fees, the cost of attending an institution of higher education has increased dramatically over the past four decades. Next fall, Wabash College will continue this trend with the implementation of an increased room and board rate for students who live in all Wabash fraternities.

The rate for fraternity room and board will be $9,300 campus-wide beginning fall of 2018. This represents an increase of $500 to $2,900, depending on the fraternity. Chief Financial Officer Kendra Cooks discovered several motivations for the change after reviewing the College’s finances when she took over from former CFO, Larry Griffith, last year.

“Part of my understanding of our budget and developing a path forward for a new financial model for the College included auxiliary services as a key component,” Cooks said. “In understanding our key operations and the finances behind them while developing a financially sustainable model for the College, room and board rates constituted a key area of focus because they involve students, revenues, charges to students, and large capital expenses.”

As Cooks sifted through pages of documents, she began to piece together previously unexamined aspects of the College’s financial expenditures.

“Dr. Hess did not know there was differential pricing in housing and dining for students until I started looking into that,” Cooks said. “I was surprised when
I saw it too, and then when you really dig and analyze into how funds are spent, I realized our rates for independent housing and fraternity housing do not include depreciation or reserves for renovations or replacements. That is why our housing and dining rates are the lowest among our peers. Putting that into balance will benefit the entire College.”

These findings resulted in a decision to make an adjustment. The new rates aim to correct three specific issues with the current way the College charges fraternity-dwelling students for room and board.

First, standardized rates address rate inequality not just between houses, but also between freshmen and upperclassmen residing in the same house. Because the College owns the buildings and doesn’t charge different rates for independents based on housing type, standardizing fraternity rates across campus replicates that practice. Additionally, the new rates ensure fraternity-dwelling freshmen, who nominally experience the same living environment as upperclassmen in fraternities, pay a more fair rate for that parallel experience.

“We charge freshman one rate,” Cooks said. “There are reasons why we do that from an administrative perspective, we know what we are going to charge them before they are even here, so packaging them and doing all of the financial aid processes is easier. But also culturally, we want our young men to make a decision about where to live based on a good match for them. Not because of costs, but because they believe these are the guys who are going to support their walk and growth at Wabash.”

Second, the new rates work to ensure financial aid students receive covers costs eligible for coverage. Within room and board, these are costs associated with housing fees such as utilities, furniture replacement, and cleaning on the rooming side and costs associated with food purchasing, preparation, and storage

on the board side. This plan provides revenue sharing with the fraternities for self-governance, cleaning, and hosting services that may be used for other expenses. Furthermore, the College can charge an additional fee at the request of individual fraternities if needed for other various budget elements.

Dean of Students Mike Raters ’85 elaborated, explaining that some fraternities budget for certain events out of private accounts or utilize dues to finance events such as these.

Under the outgoing system, the College relied on the Gentleman’s Rule to ensure the funds were going to the appropriate places. With the changes to the rates and the process, the College intends to continue to leverage the Gentleman’s Rule with some additional structure developed in partnership with fraternity housing advisors and student fraternity leadership.

Third, simplifying the settlement process with respect to the transfer of funds for expenses benefits the College in the long term. The College will also create a capital fund guaranteeing capital costs (new roofs, unexpected damages, etc.) are planned for, eliminating the need to dip into the endowment or other resources that would otherwise go to educational costs.

“I’m going to work with a small group of fraternity advisors and Dean Raters to work out some of the aspects of implementing and to work out a communication plan,” Cooks said. “We really have to have those richer conversations to get everyone on the same page. Most of the conversation so far has been practical, dealing with contract agreements between the College and the fraternities and other logistical aspects of this implementation.”

Students have expressed their recognition of the change’ benefits as well as their lack of specific knowledge regarding the new rates.

“I understand why Wabash is doing this,” Matthew Jackson ‘19 said. “[Phi Delta Theta] had a mold issue around two years ago and we lost a lot that held a lot of value to the house. Our budget suffered while we waited on our insurance check to arrive, and it was less than we were expecting. So I see these changes as just another change we must adapt for.”

The change has just recently been announced and the details of the adjustment for fraternities are still being worked out. Most fraternity students know the change is coming, but do not know much more. Cooks and fraternity advisors are meeting on an ongoing basis to determine precise details of

the settlement process changes and to clarify the exact nature of the College’s ownership of the property. They also hope to establish stronger communication between the College, advisors, and students.

It isn’t surprising that independents Mohammad Dayem Adnan ‘20 and Kaleb Wood ‘21 stated they were completely unaware that the change was occurring, but the tendency towards oral explanation on campus left those directly affected largely out of the loop as well. Consequently, one fraternity president felt he was not
well informed enough on the subject and declined to comment. Cooks hopes her meetings with fraternity advisors and leadership will result in enhanced communication systems that mitigate future misunderstandings and more effectively proliferate information about the administrative decisions.

On top of emphasizing the incredible value fraternity advisor bring to Wabash, Cooks stressed the importance placed on fraternity life at Wabash by all involved in the discussions. Nobody wants to see fraternal living’s benefits disappear from the College.

“We want to be able to sustain [fraternity life], and we don’t have a sustainable model currently to ensure consistent funding for renovations and replacements,” Cooks said. “This will really help us get that going and to better manage this down the road.”