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The Scarlet & Black

Break travel breaks the bank: Skipping classes to avoid higher prices

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By Jackson Schulte
schultej@grinnell.edu

For College students and faculty, traveling home can be a costly venture. With classes scheduled until the day before Thanksgiving and a fall semester that ends just short of Christmas, this year is particularly expensive for those who leave Grinnell for breaks. As a result, many professors canceled their classes last Wednesday and some students have sought alternative routes home for winter break.

Before Thanksgiving break last week, a professor who wishes to remain anonymous said that they cancelled their classes on Wednesday because, “It’s radically cheaper to travel not directly around Thanksgiving. It was more affordable for me to see my family.” They added, “It’s the most affordable way for students, too. It’s an additional financial burden.”

This professor also made the point that as a non-tenure track faculty member, they are paid much less than their tenured peers, which makes travel costs additionally daunting. They said, “Canceling class was the only way for me to afford to see my family.”

Domestic students going as far as the East or West Coast for winter break are sometimes resorting to alternative, slower modes of transportation like buses or Amtrak trains. As of Wednesday, Nov. 28, the cheapest one-way flight on Google Flights from Des Moines to Portland, Oregon on Dec. 22, for example, costs $438. On December 15, a week earlier, the same one-way trip costs $171. These flights are from Google’s “best flights” mode, through which Google chooses “options that give you the best trade-off between price and convenience.”

The College does factor in travel expenses when creating financial aid packages. The S&B received an email from Brad Lindberg, assistant vice president for enrollment and director of financial aid, in which he wrote that “The travel allowance is intended to represent the approximate cost of two round trips for domestic students, and one trip for those traveling overseas.”

Lindberg also wrote that the College does not give its travel allowance with a specific break in mind, because “some students choose to travel home over different break periods during the year. The allowance is intended to help cover the costs of two round trips, without regard to when they are used.”

The fact that winter break is closer to Christmas this year is not something the College’s current travel allowance system can account for. “As I described, the manner in which the travel allowance is formulated, combined with the variability in individual student circumstances keep us from using specific travel dates when formulating the allowance,” Lindberg wrote. Lindberg also noted that the general sum allotted to each student ranges from $200-$1,100, depending on how far from Grinnell a student lives.

Some students traveling home this winter break feel that the College has not done enough to make sure they can afford to get home. Rachel Hinkley ‘21, a second-year from rural New York, expressed frustration with the time it takes to get from rural Iowa to her home. “Last year it was okay because we ended far enough before Christmas that it was possible to get home by train, which is the cheapest way to get home for me,” said Hinkley.

Hinkley usually takes a train home, and it is about a 24-hour trip from Grinnell to New York. However, with winter break beginning so close to Christmas, a holiday her family celebrates, she is worried about making it back on time. “We end so close to Christmas that there was a risk of me not making it home for Christmas Eve, maybe not even Christmas. So, we had to buy a plane ticket. Luckily I happened to find one that was cheap, but that ticket goes out on the 23rd, which is pretty close to Christmas.”

Kira Duff ‘20, a student from Portland, Oregon, is concerned about being able to afford her plane ticket home. Duff said that under normal circumstances she can go home over winter break at a round trip cost of around $300. “Now, one-way is $400-plus,” said Duff, “which is not within my budget. I know there are some ways around it, but that usually includes taking a bus to Chicago, which is another $60. That usually doesn’t end up cheaper, for me, especially when you factor in travel time and ease.”

Duff also said that the expensive trip home takes a toll on her family, too. “It feels like a big inconvenience, both for me and my mom, who’s not in a position to help out but feels obligated to when prices get so high. It’s just like, ‘Well, whose Christmas present just went out the window?’”

According to Registrar of the College, Jason Maher, the academic calendar follows institutional guidelines which require that the school year begins on the first Thursday that lands between August 24-30. This year, the first Thursday between those dates happened to be August 30. This later start date explains why the semester is ending on such a late date, too. “Luckily, this does not happen often,” wrote Maher in an email to The S&B. “The last time it happened was Fall 2012. The next time will be Fall 2029.”

Listed among the top ten states represented in the Grinnell student body on the College’s website are California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Colorado. In addition, the College boasts an international student population of 18 percent. Needless to say, countless Grinnellians will travel all over the world this winter, by whatever means they can.

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