Be on the lookout for the December issue of The Blue & White, arriving on campus this week. In the meantime, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting features from the upcoming issue. Such treats include a discussion of Occupy Wall Street with Columbia professor Todd Gitlin, a look at Columbia’s proposal for a new engineering campus, and the politics of space in Lerner. Below is Peter Sterne’s investigation into Barnard’s budget woes.
Colleges are in the business of education. Though they are large private corporations that manage hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year, as non-profits, institutions of higher learning have a culture distinct from that of most for-profit private corporations. As Greg Brown, Barnard College’s Chief Operating Officer, says of the industry, “This isn’t corporate America, where the COO makes 100 times what anyone else makes.” In order to fulfill its mission, though, Barnard has to manage its money well, which requires it to make decisions that, in the short-term, may not be seem to be in the best interests of its students.
Barnard, eking out its existence on a tiny endowment, has faced financial difficulties for years, and as a result, recently adopted policies aimed at increasing revenue that have upset many students. Last year, it required all students, even those commuting to school or attending part-time, to purchase a mandatory meal plan, which costs at least $300 a semester. In October, Dean of Barnard College Avis Hinkson officially ended the informal practice of allowing some students to enroll as part-time students for their final semester of senior year, and paying significantly less for these fewer credits. The elimination of part-time enrollment set off a wave of controversy and renewed scrutiny of Barnard’s budget.
Technically, Barnard has always required all students to enroll as full-time students for all of their eight semesters. In practice, though, any student could petition for part-time enrollment, and these petitions were almost always granted. Barnard thus developed a culture of part-time enrollment, and in some cases academic advisers even encouraged students to enroll part-time. Now that the informal policy has been eliminated, many students are concerned. “It will certainly limit options of being ‘strong and beautiful’ on campus, given that students generally took this chance to take on special jobs and full-time internships,” says Hannah Goldstein, BC ’13. An outspoken critic of the change, she had planned to enroll part-time for her final semester next year and warns that the change “will encourage finance-conscious seniors to cut their time here short,” prompting them to graduate a semester early rather than pay for the cost of a final full-time semester.