As returning students settle in for the fall semester, a growing sense of distrust and dissatisfaction with the Mills administration seems to be the topic of many back-to-school conversations. In between classes, students can be overheard exchanging stories of errors increases in their student bills.
Within the past year, the sticker price to attend to the College has been lowered (a strategic recruitment move which may result in attracting more students of color and low-income populations, but the effects of which were poorly communicated to returning students), and the cost of room and board has gone up. While the tuition reset and the rising costs of room and board were two unrelated actions, both were clumsily explained in ways that seem to prioritize the College’s public reputation over the student body’s understanding of institutional changes.
On one hand, the tuition reset has been heralded as a bold move which breaks down barriers to accessing higher education, as President Hillman wrote in an email to students last September. We’ve seen news of the tuition reset splashed across all of College’s social media and celebrated by the admissions team. Conversely, the 2 percent cost of housing increase and the 3 percent cost of meal plan increase were conveyed to students in a three page Undergraduate Tuition Memo that was attached as a PDF in an email from the Treasurer. We recognize that the cost of the meal plan is beyond the College’s control, but the issue of transparency remains. Students are less likely to take note of a PDF memo then they are to read clear-cut emails from the Financial Aid office, letting students know what to expect. We recognize that the College is facing challenges on many fronts, but a commitment to transparent communication is most essential in times of uncertainty.
Although we recognize the importance of recruiting more students of color and low-income students, we question the College’s ability to successfully support these students once they are enrolled at Mills. Have we felt support during our time as students? While we have connections and feelings of belonging through the relationships that we’ve built with peers and faculty, our interactions with the administration have often been misleading or lacking in transparency.
It seems to us that Mills frequently tries to start many buzz-worthy new rebranding initiatives, but with lack of funding and poor management (and quick turnover in departments like Financial Aid and Student Accounts), things don’t come through as promised — leaving many students feeling jilted.
What can the administration do to regain the trust of the student body? We want to see the administration re-invest in current students.
When the administration insists on appearing perfect, there is no room for collaborate discussion or growth. We would like to see the administration make more efforts to transparently communicate how institutional changes will affect current students. If the administration was more open with their processes and plans, students would know how to work with them — instead of resorting to organizing after decisions have been released — as was the case with the latest increase in students’ bills. More detailed and accessible emails from Financial Aid explaining how the Tuition Reset works and informing students to anticipate the rising costs of room and board would have gone a long way to help returning students prepare to meet the financial challenges of another year at Mills.
We respect the efforts and hard work of many staff and faculty who are trying to ensure the College’s survival, and we recognize that the College’s future largely hinges on continued recruitment. But what good are recruitment efforts if current students regularly report dissatisfaction with the administration? Several of our classmates have faced challenges and have been unable to return to Mills. When one student un-enrolled, they didn’t receive any emails or outreach from support systems at Mills. In order to boost student retention, the College needs to prove their dedication to supporting enrolled students and helping them to thrive at Mills.
As student journalists, our time at Mills has taught us to be critical of publicity stunts packaged as social justice action. We value transparency and honest communication, and we hope to see the Mills administration making a real effort to lead with these values moving forward.