With tuition costs rising at most American universities, recent surveys indicating that fewer low-income students receive the help they need to pay for college, and a recovering economy, ‘financial aid’ has become a buzzword not only among prospective students but also on college campuses across the country.
Yale is no exception, with a 5 percent increase in undergraduate tuition next year — the largest tuition hike in the past 10 years. While financial aid may not be the latest dinning hall conversation topic-of-choice, it is receiving attention at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, from both students and faculty.
Though the Environment School has not been hit with this tuition increase, it cannot currently guarantee financial aid to all accepted students. Environment School Dean Gustave Speth ’64 LAW ’69 has already begun to tackle this problem, and he set his sights on further remedies when he was reappointed last October.
“The costs at Yale for all students has gone up faster than inflation in the last five or ten years,” Environment School Associate Dean for Student and Alumni Affairs Gordon Geballe said. “But our financial aid has gone up even faster than that.”
Since Speth’s appointment in 1999, he has doubled the amount of financial aid money available to masters students, Geballe said, adding that Speth increased scholarship funds this year by 30 percent. Speth said a scholarship fund-raising drive was able to make another $500,000 available for next year.
Financial aid is disbursed differently at the Environment School than in the undergraduate college because the school does not guarantee aid. Scholarships are only given when there is a demonstrated financial need, but who gets money is determined preferentially, Geballe said.
The school does not take an applicant’s ability to pay tuition into account when accepting or rejecting that candidate. After the admissions process is complete, the Environment School faculty ranks the incoming students based on previous grades, work experiences, accomplishments and other factors, formulating a list of the students they most want to come to the school.
“Then we allocate the funds differentially to those that are more highly ranked among those that need resources,” Speth said. “We spread it out as much as we can. We give aid to as many students as we have resources.”
Geballe estimated that three-fourths of the Environment School student body receives some form of financial aid. He explained that the problems arising from this method of distributing funds are twofold. First, many of the accepted students choose not to attend the environment school for fiscal reasons.
“We have to admit about twice as many people as come. We lose them for numerous reasons,” Geballe said. “Financial aid is probably our biggest one, but it’s not the only reason people decide not to come.”
It is also thought that good students fail to apply to the school because the financial aid they need is not available, Gabelle added. Environment School students are also concerned about the impact the school’s dearth of financial aid has on student demographics.
“I think that with Yale it’s more of a problem of meeting people’s need, and the fact that they aren’t able to meet students need really diminished the economic diversity of the student body,” Environment School student Beth Owen FES ’05 said.
Owen is a member of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Financial Aid Working Group, which is made up of the school’s financial aid and admissions officers, Geballe, and five other students. Owen and another member, Dani Simons FES ’04, said they think the school should find a better way to give out financial aid, but Speth said he thinks the current method is the school’s best option given its scarcity of resources.
The group, which formed several months ago, has met with the University administration to discuss ways to improve the Environment School’s financial aid program. Simons said she would like the University to start partially funding Environment School scholarships. Speth agreed and said he thought the University was considering this option.
The working group would also like to see the Environment School increase its loan forgiveness program. An expanded program would negate the tuition debts of qualifying students.
“The loan forgiveness, to me, is a way of filling in the gaps that are left after financial aid is improved,” Simons said. “[Students] would be able to go into the public service sector with a clear conscious that it won’t throw them into financial instability.”
Speth said he would hate to see students turn down public service jobs because of high loan burdens and that the school would continue to raise funds for this program. Increased financial aid money would ultimately help students, Geballe said.
“By having more scholarship money, we’d be able to shift the burden off the student loan part of financial aid,” Geballe said. “The second effect would be to make it easier and more possible for international students to come here.”
International students are often not able to borrow as much tuition money as they need, Speth said. During his tenure, he has worked to help these students, as well as American students, find ways to pay for their education. He will continue to work towards this goal, he said, but ultimately the solution is more money.
“I still feel like we aren’t near where we want to be in terms of available scholarships,” Speth said. “And so we’re still trying to do several things, but basically they all get back to raising more money for the school.”