As Finals Week comes to a close, I want to remind people of something:
Colleges are businesses. Period.
I didn’t get to participate in Finals Week this semester because of what I’m about to tell you. Instead, I was stuck inside a factory from 3:30PM to 2AM every day making shims.
A couple notes before I get started: I’m not doing much to protect my identity on this site. If you want to figure out my last name and you’re tech-savvy, it *might* take you five minutes.
So I’m also not going to do anything to protect the identity of the university I’m going to write about. Someone will figure it out eventually. Also, I think Kent deserves the bad press.
Home of the May 4th Massacre: Kent State University. No matter how bad my story sounds, at least they didn’t shoot me in the throat on my way to class.
*I’m going to rant about what happened on May 4th for a little while, but if you don’t really care and you want to skip to my story, just scroll down.*
That might sound aggressive (“It was an accident!” or — maybe if you really don’t get it — “They were throwing rocks!”); know that Kent State, over the years following the shootings, went through a massive rebranding because enrollment rates were dropping to dangerously low levels. It’s why people call “Kent State University,” just “Kent” now. They changed their logo. They spent millions on the top marketing agencies in the country to help them come up with a new image.
Under pressure from the public, they were forced to do something to memorialize the dead students. For years, in the parking lot outside my former dorm, Prentice Hall, they didn’t have anything to mark the spots where the students were shot. Imagine that: nothing but the occasional oil leak on the pavement to remind you where your son or daughter died. In 1985, architect Bruno Ast’s memorial design was approved at a cost of $1.3 million dollars. Fifteen years after the shootings, it seemed that they would get the memorial they deserved:
They only paid Bruno Ast $200,000 for that design — which, again, cost $1.3 million. Instead of putting the names of the dead students on the memorial, he was forced to put, “Inquire. Learn. Reflect.” He hated those words. What’s more is that they were antithetical to the university’s actions.
Kent State was able to raise over $6 million for a new fashion building in no time. They couldn’t do the same for the memorial because it would harm their image.
They promised one thing and did another.
Halfway through the 2016/2017 academic year, I was $600 under on my meal plan. That means I was expected to have spent $600 more on food. I was going to “Munchie’s Market,” a grocery store located inside my dorm every day, three or four times a day, to eat whatever I could. Usually I would get a few cups of greek yogurt and a liter of chocolate milk. Later, I would get some Propel and a protein bar, or maybe a chicken wrap. I was on the go: working a lot on my startup with Kent State’s LaunchNET and Case Western Reserve University’s IP Venture Clinic, and I had a job working as a writing tutor at the university library. On top of that (plus an 18-hour credit load), I tried to get a minimum of four hours of volunteer work in (sometimes successful, sometimes not).
Interesting sidenote for anyone who likes personal finance: Nothing on the shelves at Munchie’s Market has a price tag. These rich college kids are having their parents take care of everything they buy and they’re learning nothing about budgeting, a cornerstone financial skill. It’s like they’ve never even seen someone on welfare. Just pulling items off the shelves and throwing them in the basket like babies. I always asked the price of every item I was buying, acutely aware that whatever I bought I could get for half as much at Walmart.
That’s because meal plans at universities are Grade-A scams: if you don’t spend all the money on your meal plan — which is actually pretty common; the stores are empty at the end of the year — the money goes right into the university’s pocket. And, if you’re living on campus, the meal plan is a requirement. The university offers a few different options, but the cheapest is called the “Lite,” priced at $1820/semester.
Poor people (read: college students) shouldn’t even be thinking about spending $16.25/day on food. Growing up, my mom didn’t spend more than $100/week on groceries for a family of five. Even now, when I technically have more than enough money to spend that much on food (and I’m planning a trip to California for the whole summer), I’m not eating $16.25/day. Pasta, peanut butter sandwiches, protein shakes. Occasionally fruits and veggies. Keep it simple.
Naturally, I wanted out. Like any self-respecting capitalist, I noticed that I could get a better deal somewhere else. I wanted to act on it.
Also, I wanted out of the living spaces. For the first two years, I commuted to Kent State. I saved up a few thousand dollars working at a deli in my local grocery store to afford the dorms. I wanted “the full college experience” — something that I didn’t really realize you can’t experience when you’re a junior and not a freshman.
My dorm was a little bit bigger than a closet, and I shared it with one of my best friends. It was fun, sure. I just hated having to wear shower shoes to go to a bathroom that I shared with thirty other guys. It smelled like someone threw a bowl of Spaghetti-O’s down the sink. Because they did.
I filled out a contract release form and sent them a letter describing my financial situation, which was much worse than any personal preferences I had about living in the dorm.
After working for thirty years as a project manager for a large tech company and securing multiple patents, my father was laid off two years before his pension plan kicked in.
Ever since the housing crisis, my mother’s been struggling as a real estate appraiser — which isn’t a very lucrative job to begin with.
I was down a couple thousand dollars stocking up inventory for my small business. Since I was spending my time on a business that wasn’t profitable yet, I wasn’t working my usual hours — writing or working a minimum-wage job — for that extra $300-$400/week. Tutoring barely made me any money at all (even though it’s free for KSU students and I’ve since charged 3x as much money for private tutoring, which means, if anything, I was creating more than enough value to offset my “cost”).
Kent State’s #1 priority, according to their own website, is “Students First.” I made sure to include that phrase in my letter. Surely that meant I was a shoe-in for exemption.
“Our focus on student success and an environment in which every university decision is made relative to its impact on students has resulted in improvements in retention and graduation rates and greater student engagement in high-impact experiences.”
– Beverly Warren, President of Kent State University.
Despite the fact that I was working hard for the university for at least 10-15 hours a week (my boss wouldn’t let me do more), working hard on a small business that I wanted to secure a patent for, and working hard by maintaining good grades with an above-average credit load while my family struggled financially — in other words, despite being the spit image of a student engaging in “high-impact experiences,” this is what they sent me:
This letter is to inform you that your petition for contract release from your current Residence Hall Contract for Room and Food Plan has been denied after careful consideration of the information provided . . .”
A form rejection that ignored everything.
Again: Kent State is a business. It doesn’t put “Students First” if it doesn’t pad their bottom line. In every possible sense, money came before me.
When I found out that I could be released from the contract (which, again, I was on track to lose $1200 over MINIMUM) as long as I didn’t attend Kent State for a semester, I decided that was a viable option.
So, I dropped out for a semester and got a job at a factory.
I expected Kent State to send me multiple emails encouraging me to stick with it, or maybe to get some leeway regarding the contract.
I am sorry to hear that you are withdrawing!
I do want to make sure you know there are steps you need to take to complete the room checkout process in order to avoid any charges for spring . . .”
One sentence. No attempt at “retention.”
To top it off: They filled my dorm room with someone else within a week.
My roommate, who also got rejected from the contract release, ended up staying with his girlfriend at her apartment for the whole semester. He never got his money back, even though he technically didn’t use *any* of the university’s facilities.
I’m committed to giving 10% of my income to charity.
But rest assured, Kent State: you’ll never see a penny.
TL;DR Kent State University wouldn’t let me out of their expensive meal plan contract despite my father getting laid off, my mother getting less business than usual working a job that doesn’t make a lot of money, my own small business not recording a profit for that semester, my job working as a tutor for their library (getting underpaid), and my involvement volunteering for Super Service Saturday and creating care packages for the homeless through Campus Kitchens.