Where some Dartmouth students would like to see the school's growing endowment go
Dartmouth College's endowment soared this year, reaching $8.5 billion, an increase of more than 46% over the last year.
It ranks among the universities with the largest endowments in the country.
But some students are concerned about where this windfall will go. Among those concerns are housing, student wages and housing.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Spencer Allen, a junior at Dartmouth College who wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper about the college's growing endowment and where some students hope that money will go. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Peter Biello: In your column, you address student wages. Dartmouth announced it would be using some of its endowment money to raise the hourly rate for students employed by the school from $7.75 an hour to $11.50 an hour. You're a student employee. What does this mean for you and your colleagues?
Spencer Allen: Yeah, so for me, I work in the Dartmouth College Library and I make about, I want to say, somewhere between $9.60 and $9.70 an hour. And so I'm excited to be getting at least $1.75 raise when this change goes into effect at the end of the year. And I think most of my colleagues who also work in the library and also work in other positions where they're being paid less than $11.50, I think universally we're pretty excited about this measure.
However, there's still some concerns that I have, that other students have, that the college can do more to pay students competitive wages for the local area. In response to the national labor shortage, quite a few local businesses have raised their starting wages and their benefits for their employees. One local restaurant that I can think of raised their starting wage to $16 an hour for folks who don't have any experience, and it doesn't sound like at least right now, that the college will be making quite the same leap for students.
So, it would be to kind of help the college, it would be beneficial to raise student wages even better. And there are also concerns that the $11.50 an hour, while a lovely increase, it still isn't going to do enough to support students, to help students ensure that they make ends meet.
Peter Biello: Housing has also been an issue at Dartmouth. Recently, some students were relocated to hotel rooms following the discovery of unsafe conditions in a dorm building. Some mold was there. You said this increase in endowment money should be used to address housing. What would you like to see happen?
Spencer Allen: The college has already committed to using more of its endowment funding for to build additional housing. However, I think that the college needs to kind of double down on its priorities to build additional housing for students so that we can all be guaranteed housing spots, especially when something like mold or other hazards pop up and we have to take emergency measures.
Peter Biello: And what do you mean by "double down?" Do you mean Dartmouth College should build these faster or they should build more or both?
Spencer Allen: Really both.
Peter Biello: Dartmouth has also seen a mental health crisis on campus in the past year. Three students who've died by suicide. You've said some students are saying funds from the endowment should be going towards mental health services. What do you think that would look like?
Spencer Allen: Specifically, what this would look like is hiring more counselors and expanding their after hours care services. Right now, they've already committed to hiring more counselors. But what we're working at pre-pandemic was about, I might say it's about 25% of students across both the undergraduate college and the graduate schools were using the college's mental health services. However, during the pandemic, the need for those service services increased considerably. Yet we weren't hiring on counselors quickly enough. So I'd like to see more counselors hired on so that we are able to support more students than just that 25% comfortably.
Peter Biello: A rising endowment, coupled with student concerns, is not a unique problem for Dartmouth. I mean, students at other schools like Yale and Howard have been vocalizing what they'd like to see their school's endowment go toward. How could students have more of a voice in these discussions around the rising cost of higher [education] and how schools spend their endowment money?
Spencer Allen: Yeah, that's actually a really good question, Peter. I don't quite see it as an issue of the students not necessarily having a voice. It more seems to be an issue of the administration not giving us a voice. I'm doing research for an article that is set to publish in the next few days where students have outlined in columns in [The Dartmouth] and across Twitter and kind of in-person venues, very specific reforms that we would like the college to take up in terms of mental health, including some of the reforms I discussed with you.
The issue is the college has kind of repeatedly not been listening to our concerns, even though the college administration says that it is trying to improve, that's trying to listen to students and trying to improve mental health. It's pretty clear that if it is listening, they aren't listening with an open enough mind to really make change on campus.
Peter Biello: Spencer Allen, thank you very much for speaking with me. Really appreciate it.
Spencer Allen: Of course, my pleasure.
Peter Biello: Spencer Allen is a junior at Dartmouth, and he's written about the college's growing endowment. To read Spencer's piece, visit thedartmouth.com.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
In a statement to NHPR, Dartmouth College said this:
Dartmouth’s endowment supports our dual mission of education and research, and is structured to support the institution today and in the future. The endowment does not function like a regular bank account. Unlike donations to the annual fund, which are spent immediately, funds from the endowment are invested, and generate earnings that must be used in accordance with the wishes of donors. The endowment is comprised of more than 6,000 funds established for specific, legally restricted purposes and is managed to provide a consistent stream of income to the institution’s operating budget, while preserving its purchasing power for future generations.
The minimum wage for New Hampshire is $7.25. Dartmouth pays student workers a minimum of $11.50, with some jobs paying higher rates.
We understand that the country is experiencing a mental health crisis. At the start of this academic year, we ramped up mental health resources, which included a 50% increase in clinical staff with additional representatives from BIPOC, LGBTQ, and international communities. Any student who presents an urgent need is seen that day and for more routine visits the waiting time is three or four days.
Dartmouth has also begun working with the Jed Foundation’s signature JED Campus Program. JED is a nonprofit that works to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for teens and young adults. Working groups consisting of students, faculty, and senior leadership have been established across the institution. They will develop a plan to support students’ mental health needs. Each committee will complete a 50-page self-study developed by JED that explores the institution’s mental health policies and procedures. All students have been invited to take a “Healthy Minds” survey that asks for their feedback on Dartmouth’s mental health climate and resources. Each school is partnered with a JED adviser who works closely with each working group throughout the process.
After receiving this feedback, JED advisers and content experts will come to Dartmouth in the spring to meet with the committees, hold student focus groups, and work with each school to create a strategic plan for the schools and the Arts and Sciences based on information collected in the surveys, self-study, and site visit. Dartmouth will implement those strategic plans in the second and third years, evaluating the progress of the initiatives in the fourth year of the partnership. A follow-up “Healthy Minds” survey will also be administered in year four.
For the remainder of our fundraising campaign, we have three priorities, one of which is encouraging student success and supporting a healthy, welcoming campus community. We are seeking to expand mental health and wellness services for students, an initiative embraced by the Young Alumni Campaign Advisory Committee, which has launched a fund for student mental health.
Increasing the stock of housing for undergraduates is a high priority for Dartmouth. The College has begun to explore the feasibility of building a new residence hall on property at the north end of its campus. The institution will spend $50 million this summer to renovate the two residence halls in which mold was discovered. Over the next 15 years, almost two-thirds of undergraduate residences are expected to be renovated and refreshed. This will be supported through the College’s annual renewal fund (currently at $39 million) and an endowed infrastructure renewal fund (currently at $130 million) created by the board of trustees’ decision in March 2021.
President Philip J. Hanlon meets regularly with students, who can schedule appointments to discuss their concerns, offer suggestions, or ask questions on any topic. This term he has invited any member of the Dartmouth community to join him for a lunchtime walk around campus on Wednesday mornings, weather permitting.