This weekend, Swarthmore’s Board of Managers voted on a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year which includes $300,000 devoted for a new carbon charge. Unrelated to this charge, the full cost of an academic year to students will rise by 3.5 percent and the financial aid budget will increase to 19 percent. There will also be additional changes in fundraising and endowment spending, among other areas.
A carbon charge, as proposed earlier by the Board of Managers, taxes carbon emissions to promote reductions in pollution. The college would put the money collected from the charge towards initiatives encouraging energy reduction and the use of renewable energy. An article posted on the College’s webpage and sent out in an electronic newsletter on Monday explained that “a working group of members of the faculty and staff” helped to design this plan.
The carbon charge will impose three subprograms. First of these is a price on all new construction based on the rate of $40 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. This has not yet been implemented, and an email from Director of Sustainability Aurora Winslade did not specify when it would begin, or whether or not it would affect current building projects. Additionally, approximately 0.5% of each department’s budget will be levied, beginning during the approaching fiscal year. This is not designed to affect salaries, but will be increased over time. Finally, the money gained, which is estimated to be $300,000 in the first year with these directives, will be put towards various projects aimed at reducing the College’s carbon footprint. Winslade will lead a committee to manage these funds.
Winslade wrote in an email, “A primary goal of this new policy, however, is to induce positive behavior change by making individuals’ carbon emissions more apparent and meaningful.” Over the next few years, programs will be released, including a student Presidential Sustainability Research Fellow initiative to be formally announced soon.
The Environmental Impact Committee met on Monday and discussed the new carbon charge. The committee works directly with Aurora Winslade to improve sustainability efforts. SGO Chair of Environmental Impact Bennett Parrish ’18 said the “committee overall is excited that the board made this decision. This is a big step forward for the board.”
The College’s announcement groups further specific changes in the budget into the categories of student charges, endowment spending, fundraising, and strategic initiatives. The increase in student charges will result in a full cost of $63,550 per academic year. The College also aims to increase endowment spending by 11.3 percent, approaching a total of five percent—the highest percentage of endowment permitted by the spending policy. Between this fall and 2020, the Board announced that it would like to raise $450 million through fundraising, as well as increase enrollment by 20 students for the next academic year. To meet the needs of the additional students, more faculty will be hired, and construction will continue around campus.
Board of Managers Member Harold Kalkstein ’78 clarified in an email that these changes do not directly result from the new carbon charge. He wrote, “Over the past 10 years tuition has increased each year somewhere between 3-4.5%/year as a function of the overall budget requirements of the college. The carbon charge is, in fact, a charge, taken against departmental budgets which have not been increased to offset the charge.”
At the time of publication, the budget had not yet been posted on the Swarthmore College website.
UPDATE (10:39 a.m., February 23): Abby Saul ’19 commented on behalf of Mountain Justice, “I think it’s really important that we take every step possible to achieve a more equitable and sustainable future here at Swarthmore College not just for ourselves, but for our whole generation. And I think the carbon tax is a really good step towards that.” Saul continued to explain how important it is to use every tool at the College’s disposal to eliminate carbon pollution, including divestment. She recounted the resolutions put forth by students, faculty, alumni, and honorary degree recipients that support the movement.
In addition to divestment, Saul suggested that funds be used to reinvest in cleaner energy sources. Specifically, she noted the success of last weekend’s Serenity Soular party, and the importance of supporting organizations which affect local communities as well. She added, “I think it’s really clear […] that the board does care about creating a sustainable future for our generation and for the world. I just think they need to rethink some of the ways in which we can do that.”
CLARIFICATION (5:36 p.m., February 23): Board of Managers Member Harold Kalkstein ’78 clarified in an email exchange that the change in student charges is not a direct result of the added carbon charge. Clarifications have been made in the original article.
UPDATE (5:53 p.m., February 23): Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregory Brown commented that the 2016-2017 budget poses changes relating to, separately, the carbon charge and tuition. In response to the greater cost of attendance, he said, “Depending on financial need, much of that increase [in price] is going to be absorbed by increased aid.”
He expects to have a thorough explanation of the budget on the Swarthmore website by Monday, February 29.