Kim fields students’ criticism, questions
By Emily Baer
Published on Wednesday, March 9, 2011
College President Jim Yong Kim fielded a range of critical questions from students who attended a Student Assembly-sponsored forum on Tuesday evening. Students’ concerns guided the conversation, which covered the recently-announced tuition increase, new meal plan, recent resignation of minority faculty members and availability of campus social spaces.
In light of the 5.9-percent increase in tuition, room, board and fees for the 2011-2012 academic year announced Monday, one audience member asked Kim why the College raised costs at a disproportionately higher rate than inflation, making Dartmouth the second-most expensive Ivy League institution.
Kim said the increase was a product of the existing budget deficit. Despite the increased cost, the College is still discounting students’ educations — which are worth twice the amount of tuition costs — by 50 percent, he said.
Kim emphasized the value of an Ivy League education, citing the evaluations of economist and Yale University President Richard Levin. Levin estimated that a four-year college degree increases an individual’s income by 40 percent, Kim said.
“Your return on investment of going to Dartmouth is higher than it’s ever been before,” Kim said.
While the cost of education has increased faster than inflation rates, Kim said the cost to families remains low given the financial aid packages the College offers. The admissions process maintains a need-blind policy, and families who earn salaries under $75,000 a year are still guaranteed financial aid. This past year, the College spent almost $80 million on financial aid, Kim said.
The scheduled Fall 2011 switch to a pay-per-meal dining plan incited comments from students who claimed to have large amounts of leftover funds in their Declining Balance Accounts.
Kim cited Director of Dining Services David Newlove, who said that only 5 percent of students end the term with more than $10 in their accounts. While audience members expressed disappointment regarding the lack of student voice in the switch to a pay-per-meal dining plan, Kim said administrators are working to address student concerns.
“We’re meeting now because some of the critiques are very important,” Kim said. “Is there is a place where you can go and meet with your friends if you’re not eating there? We take that very seriously.”
“The things about it that I really like are that one, no one is going to actually go hungry and two, [Newlove] felt that this was the way that we could have the greatest impact on students’ eating behaviors,” Kim said.
The College plans to “build nutritional education” into the process of purchasing food by including calorie counts on food items, placing the healthiest foods in the front of dining halls and making nutritious food more appetizing, Kim said.
DDS will address issues of portion control and food waste by examining past studies of plate size and other factors that contribute to overeating, Kim said. According to one report the College considered, a plate that is 8.5 inches in diameter will prevent most people from taking too much food, Kim said.
Kim said the College plans to provide a broad range of alternative social activities for students who do not wish to participate in Greek life. The College must ensure that these activities occur on a regular basis and appeal to a variety of students, he said.
While administrators plan to actively support the Class of 1953 Commons as an alternative social space, they will not dictate the events that occur within the building, according to Kim.
“We know that, unless students lead the effort to go to those activities, nothing that we do will work,” Kim said.
After audience member Elisabeth Ericson ’11 asked how — in the midst of the recent economic downturn — at least two fraternities have been able to bypass fundraising mechanisms and gain alumni support to renovate their physical plants, Kim said administrators recognize that the group of active alumni that graduated before the 1970s lack a large representation of minorities and any representation of women.
“In recognition of that, I think we’ve stepped up,” Kim said. “We found a building for Alpha Phi [sorority] and have shown that Dartmouth will support constituencies who don’t have alumni support directly.”
Kim said he supports the First Year Student Enrichment Program, and plans to expand the program while aligning it with plans to revamp the academic advising system.
Kim said that in the future, administrators need to more effectively communicate the rationale behind their decisions regarding campus life and student programs to reduce student discontent and confusion.
“Dartmouth students are extremely bright and extremely critical — that’s what we teach you to do,” he said. “If we don’t communicate our rationale, you will come back at us with very pointed comments. I’m always going to make some people unhappy, but I will always commit to you that in settings like this, I will tell you exactly what I’m thinking.”