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Op-Ed: Reconciling Rollins’ commitment to service: The unmet needs of Bonner leaders 

Photo by Liam King

“Life is for service” is the phrase that serves as the guiding principle for Bonner leaders. A phrase displayed across various buildings on campus, reinforcing the core of the college’s motto: ‘Let there be light’. As Bonners, we contribute 300 hours annually to volunteering, balancing this commitment with classes and other jobs to cover our expenses. 

If Rollins truly embraces a life dedicated to service, why are Bonners struggling? Being a Bonner at Rollins demands not just completing 300 hours but also committing to a summer of service, a capstone project, attending a winter intersession, arriving early for fall retreats, and Monday classes—all for a mere $3000 a year. 

The Bonner leader program, affiliated with The Corella & Bertram F. Bonner Foundation—a national organization across 75+ schools in the USA—upholds the motto “Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve.” Yet, how can education be accessible when a $3000 scholarship barely covers four percent of the cost of attending Rollins? Considering the escalating tuition costs, this figure might dwindle even further in the coming semesters. 

The Bonner leaders scholarship is merit-need based, emphasizing deserving students with financial constraints. However, the stringent requirements and meager compensation force many Bonners to seek additional jobs or drop out, resulting in a decline in cohort sizes. Financial stress prevails, as higher education intertwines with financial pressures. 

Research by Jacks S. Pelts et al. in the Journal of American College Health highlights the profound impact of financial stress on students. It leads to sleep disturbances, increased stress levels, and heightened depressive symptoms. Bonners not only contend with packed schedules but also relentlessly pursue additional funding, often juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet. Overworked, overcommitted, and undercompensated, Bonner leaders grapple with Rollins’ “life is for service” slogan, questioning its true essence amidst financial struggles. 

The disparity in compensation for Bonner leaders at Rollins College warrants greater attention, especially when other institutions in the Corella & Bertram F. Bonner Foundation offer scholarships ranging from $5,000 to full tuition for similar responsibilities. At the national Bonner Conference, representatives from various institutions highlighted this issue, offering constructive feedback to collaboratively improve the program and gain attention from higher-ups. We aim to adopt fairer compensation methods from other institutions, promoting equity within our program. 

This is not merely my voice; it echoes the sentiments of 36 out of 37 Bonner students—a resounding 97.3%—who signed a petition advocating for increased scholarships. This proposal aims to justly compensate Bonner leaders for their dedication to community engagement and commitment, aligning with Rollins’ idea “life is for service.” Transforming it from a mere slogan into a living reality 

It’s time for Rollins and institutions alike to reckon with the paradox between advocating service and neglecting the welfare of its most committed students. By revisiting the Bonner scholarship’s structure, valuing the dedication it takes, and reassessing its financial adequacy, Rollins can stay true to its commitment to service while genuinely supporting those who embody it. 

Let us continue embodying Rollins’ values through service, ensuring fair compensation to access higher education without compromising mental health or quality of life. Allowing light to shine into the lives of both those positively impacted by the service provided by Bonners and the Bonners themselves. Achieving an accurate representation of Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur or Rollins College. Have any additional tips or opinions? Send us your response. We want to hear your voice.

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