Every residential college has finalized programs to lower social costs for low-income students in time for Beer Bike, using $500 that the office of the Dean of Undergraduates allocated to each college this semester for the purpose of aiding low-income students.
College presidents focused on finding ways to subsidize event and merchandise costs as part of a larger push to cover nontuition expenses that act as barriers preventing low income students from fully participating in the Rice experience.
Student leadership began working on this issue over a year ago, when a report from the Student Association showed that nearly 60 percent of students with a household income of less than $50,000 could not participate in Rice events like Beer Bike or service opportunities such as Alternative Spring Break due to the costs involved.
“It is expensive to attend Rice, but we are often less aware of the finances required to participate within the college system,” Chris Sabbagh, former Jones College president, said. “Beer Bike shirts, paid events, late-night food, all of these things add up quickly. Some we can’t control, but some we can.”
Former Lovett College President Rahul Kothari said the college presidents gathered together at the beginning of the fall 2016 semester to improve low income accessibility.
“We had conversations amongst ourselves and with low-income students, as well as with the SA senators, [Hutchinson], the college masters, and our colleges to work through several iterations of the plan to make sure that we were providing the most appropriate support that low-income students need,” Kothari said.
Each college is creating a permanent discretionary fund, administered by the college masters and in some cases other members of the adult team, to help low-income students with college costs. Various college-level policies have also been introduced aiming to reduce merchandise and event costs.
At Sid Richardson College, the money will be used to subsidize Beer Bike T-shirts for students who self-identify to the college master as needing financial assistance. According to former President Bissy Michael, next year, the effectiveness of this program will also be assessed via a survey of the Sid students. Other proposals at Sid pending approval include allocating money towards the costs of college sports, specifically powderpuff and the bike team.
According to former Martel College President Ly Nguyen, the Martel leadership created a general subsidy fund and provided partial and full subsidies for Beer Bike T-shirts for all Martel students. Will Rice College has similarly capped the price of Beer Bike shirts to $5 shirts for all students as well as initiating a fund from their budget for students requesting financial assistance to pay for events and merchandise, according to former President Ankush Agrawal.
“The fund is a solution in the right direction, but definitely not perfect,” Agrawal said. “There are going to be some students who do not feel comfortable using this fund or approaching the college masters for assistance. Trying to identify all the different students who need assistance from those that don’t is a very complex problem.”
Hutchinson said colleges are considering using the funds to cover expenses outside of residential colleges.
“The student leaders have also participated in higher-level discussions about issues outside of colleges, issues that have to do with program participation fees, unaccounted for expenses for academic programming, co-curricular programming,” Hutchinson said. “They are trying to figure out how to better support lower-income students so they can take direct action at their college levels with their own budgets.”
Nguyen, a senior, said the new college presidents will carry on the work of their predecessors.
“Since this year will be a pilot test of each college’s implementation of their financial accessibility projects, the newly elected leaders at each college will re-evaluate their college budgets to account for these funds and monitor the progress and effectiveness of the projects,” Nguyen said.
Former Jones College President Chris Sabbagh also said the burden will now fall on the new college presidents.
“It’s up to the future presidents to evaluate the actions the previous presidents chose and amend programs wherever and whenever they fail,” Sabbagh, a senior, said. “I hope future presidents simply continue this conversation.”
Hutchinson said the college presidents deserve credit for their efforts.
“They never gave up on the idea that they could find a way to improve the inclusiveness of their colleges,” he said. “This is by far one of the most exciting initiatives I have ever seen the student leadership undertake over the years.”
An earlier version of this article omitted Baker College from the accompanying information graphic.