Allen: Share the Wealth
The College must spare no expense in using its recent endowment gains to support students.
On Monday, Dartmouth announced that its endowment — the pool of money generated from donors and investments and used in part to finance the College’s operations — grew to $8.5 billion at the end of fiscal year 2021, a striking 46.5% increase from the previous fiscal year. When Dartmouth announced this growth, it also announced several ways it would use the endowment to support the student body, such as increasing financial aid to undergraduates, offering a $1,000 bonus to certain graduate students and raising the student minimum wage from $7.75 an hour to $11.50 an hour — a change College spokesperson Diana Lawrence estimated would impact around 1,000 student workers.
Dartmouth’s efforts to return some of its endowment growth to students are generous — I, for one, am excited to make more money in the campus jobs I work — but Monday’s announcement barely scratches the surface of what the College should use this money for. It’s too early to know exactly what Dartmouth has in store for this new $2.5 billion, but the College must go further than this week’s announcement in enacting change to better support students.
The announced minimum wage increase falls short of how much students should be paid for their work. This past May, I argued that Dartmouth must raise its student minimum wage to at least $13.18 an hour — the living wage for a single, childless adult living in Grafton County. This week’s wage hike helps to bridge the gap between where student wages are and where they should be, but it is still $1.68 per hour short of helping students make ends meet.
What’s worse, $13.18 an hour is no longer a competitive wage for student workers: As the Upper Valley — and the nation at-large — battles a massive labor shortage, several businesses have already increased their starting wages to attract workers. Boloco, for instance, is hiring inexperienced new workers for $16 an hour and offering generous benefits like health insurance and paid time off. The College has a long way to go if it truly wants to remain a competitive employer in order to fill its vacant positions.
I am also struck by what Monday’s announcement did not mention. Housing, one of the most pressing issues affecting Dartmouth today, was only mentioned once in the College’s press release — put another way, the College deemed one mention sufficient to reference the lack of available housing, desperately needed renovations to existing dorms and hazardous conditions that exist in at least several residence halls. It is hard to argue that Dartmouth was ever strapped enough for cash so as to justify putting housing on the back burner, but now, there is certainly no excuse for housing to not be a top priority on administrators’ minds.
Moreover, dining received no mention at all in Dartmouth’s announcement. Though students have faced obnoxiously long lines that have prevented them from eating at normal times — or at all — the College has yet again neglected to announce any major improvements to the dining situation. To be sure, the situation has improved as the term has proceeded — Dartmouth Dining celebrated that “the worst” was over in an email to parents and families sent two weeks ago, screenshots of which were obtained by The Dartmouth — but I hesitate to say that was due to any serious effort on the College’s part. Instead, it seems that some students have sought to avoid lines by eating at less convenient times and getting more food off campus — the latter, an option not everyone can afford. Again, Dartmouth has the finances to ameliorate the dining crisis on-campus. While a fix cannot be enacted overnight, the College must listen to students and commit to constructing a new dining facility.
I recognize that the College is likely still planning exactly how to spend its endowment funding; indeed, it is possible that additional dispersals of this funding may be announced in the coming weeks or months. Endowment support for housing and dining related projects is also couched in the Infrastructure Renewal Fund, announced in March as a way for Dartmouth to improve its facilities over time.
Nevertheless, the College clearly has more to do to support its students. I fully support the efforts it has already made to use the endowment for the greater good, but Dartmouth cannot stop there: Investments in new dorms, better dining facilities and competitive wages must be made priorities. As Dartmouth clearly has the money to invest in the student experience — after all, our endowment did just increase by more than two years’ operating budgets — absolutely no stone can be left unturned in improving the quality of life of students and guaranteeing the continued appeal of Dartmouth for future generations of students.