These Four Years

Sidney Spicer, Student Contributor

It’s a sweet sentiment, really. A room of almost 90 families who don’t know that they’re sitting ducks, yet. Ready to be fed the tales of “finding yourself” and statistics than do little to reflect our direction as a college and more to reflect the students, faculty, and staff that are sticking it out through the ordeal that has been the last couple of years – the entirety of some people’s college experience.

Our college is shifting, changing. Change is inevitable, and everything looks rosy through a rearview mirror, but how can the President of our college say to me in effect that he cannot afford to care about the 4-year experience of students right now, and then turn around to a room of prospective students and promise that their next 4 years at college will be everything to them? How can a person believe that for some classes of students, you have to cut your losses, but promise others the world?

At a budget meeting, I sat in a room full of students, and asked that question. I asked, “How can you justify sacrificing students now in order to benefit your bottom line?” And was met with “We don’t do that,” followed not two minutes later by “I can’t afford to look at student experience now, I’m looking at longevity.” I would ask which answer is real, but I already know. We all already know.

Our college is shifting. Moving from an ideal of thinking, evolving, and acting to one where we are only supposed to think about ourselves. We promise students who come here a strong community. I am only still here for that strong community. Meanwhile, that community is being undermined by language that reflects not the community we love, but one of selfishness. One of a change that we did not hear anyone ask for.

I know it is just a motto, but our mottos are chosen to represent who we are. This new motto does not ask us to work together – to spark change in the world around us. It does not ask us to change ourselves for the better. It asks us to be only individual. Individualism is important, but looking at our world today, isn’t working together important? Isn’t spanning divides important? Isn’t the willingness to change ourselves important?

I thought we were supposed to come out of Juniata with “The skills needed to engage effectively with and adapt to a changing world,” have “Analytical and creative thinking, critical questioning, and examination of evidence,” and “The capacity to act ethically with empathy, honesty, and responsibility.” All of this comes from working together and adapting, not working alone and thinking about who we are.

Our college is shifting. Shifting to one where the burden of extra thousands of dollars can be placed on student and their families with little notice and little escape. Shifting to a culture that seems to say “I don’t care” to those students struggling to figure out how they are going to stay here.

$58,000. Just take that in. Just let yourself soak in that $10,000 difference from what I thought I would be paying when I came to Juniata in 2015. For many of us, that will be a quarter of our starting salary coming out of college. Potentially less, likely more. Tell me, who can bear the burden of a nearly $240,000 education? Even with the highest academic scholarship offered, that is still a burden of over $120,000 for four years of education.

I ask the administration, how is this reasonable? How do you expect your students to pay this? Could you?

More importantly – would you?

We are told: the college needs the money. The college is going through rough times. The college can’t afford a lower tuition.

Let us look at some numbers. Juniata College has an endowment of $111 million. I am no expert on endowments or how they are used, but even if Juniata is only able to use 5% of that endowment every year, we are looking at $5.5 million.

My brother went to a liberal arts school called Marymount University. Let’s compare the two.

Marymount University has a student body size of around 2,000, has the option to live off campus after your first two years, provides more meal plan options than Juniata College, and their tuition is only $30,426. Their endowment size is $43 million.

Juniata College has a student body of around 1,500. Juniata requires all students to live on campus through their third years and has now removed the option to live off campus as a senior. It is now providing only two meal plan options, and tuition is $58,000 a year. Their endowment is $111 million.

I know there are differences in these universities. They are in different places, originated at different times, and have different values. But still, it begs the question: where is our money going?

This is an emotional op-ed, I know that. And I am emotional. However, I ask you to not take this as a detriment to my argument, but rather, a support for it. I am not bitter, throwing a fit about not living where I wanted to live, as one President of a college suggested during a Student Senate meeting. I am a young adult, shaped by the professors of this college and the community of student leaders that came before me to recognize when wrong is being done and when fluffy presentations on the school’s budget are given in an attempt to placate an angry audience. I am questioning whether or not I should have suggested that people attend this school, because the pieces I came here for, the affordability I thought I would have, and the legacy I thought it would leave on me are being shattered. I am stopping myself from standing up in meetings of prospective students and shouting “If these next four years matter, 18-22, why did you tell me that my four years didn’t matter to you? That you could not afford to care about my four years?”

I am emotional, and I am not sorry. I am emotional because I have watched friend after friend drop out because they did not get the support they needed and could not afford this school. I am emotional because I have been asked to speak to administration and then ignored. I am emotional because people have told this administration time and time again why they are leaving, and nothing has been done to fix it. I am emotional, and you should be too.

Our revolt melted into a flat tire, our fire burns out as soon as we step foot on campus because we are burned out. Our four years build and fill us with frustration in this place, and we fall flat before bursting and demanding change. We fall flat.

I don’t want to fall flat anymore. I don’t want to stand by and watch this place that I love and have always loved turn into a shell of what it used to be. We need to protect the community of support, caring, and quirkiness at this school, we need an administration that listens to our concerns instead of throwing both Dean and President in our faces for a presentation that tells us we shouldn’t be upset because things could be worse elsewhere. We need our professors to be supported in the roles they need to play. We need communication, understanding, compassion. All of those things we print on our shiny brochures that are then thrown in the trash.

We need more than what is happening now. Because I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the Juniata I chose four years ago.