Yale must go extra mile on financial aid reform

Last semester, I had the chance to ask President Levin to explain the “philosophy of co-investment” he often references when confronted by internal and external pressure for meaningful financial aid reform. I was disappointed to hear Levin reiterate his argument that the burden of work and debt that Yale currently imposes on students and families is for their own good. This burden, Levin asserted, makes students invested in their own education and parents in the education of their children. Levin went so far as to cite a study by Yale’s Child Study Center demonstrating the importance of parental involvement in children’s lives as justification for not adopting Harvard’s policy of requiring no contribution from families making under $40,000 a year, a policy he derided as a “publicity stunt.”

Low-income students choosing between Yale and peer institutions already know that Harvard has gone the extra mile to expand the diversity of its student body. Levin is doing Yale no favors by publicly suggesting that the University’s insistence on charging students for their education is only for their own good to give them something to bond with their parents over.

The same “This hurts us more than it hurts you” attitude lurks behind Yale’s justifications of the current required student contribution of over $4,000 dollars each school year. Administrators have argued that such work, which for many students amounts to 20 hours a week, provides stimulating opportunities for students while giving them the satisfaction of contributing to their own education. Yet no Yale administrator has proposed imposing such a work requirement on students not on Yale financial aid in order to help them better appreciate their education or expressed concern that such students are taking their education for granted. Yale administrators have not suggested to those of us not bound to make a student contribution that the most gratifying pursuits to squeeze into our schedules include working in the library.

Rather, freshmen are encouraged at every Convocation to plunge into and take over the reigns of extracurricular opportunities. The implications of a University in which half of the student body is directed to spend up to 20 hours a week working and the other half is directed to spend it running organizations are deeply unsettling for social integration in our community. The unfortunate, if unintentional, impact of President Levin’s “philosophy of co-investment” is the creation of a de facto double standard.

It is one few undergraduates approve of, judging by the canvass of 300 of our peers conducted by the Undergraduate Organizing Committee last semester. Most students, whether themselves on financial aid or not, agreed that the current burden imposed on a subset of students not only narrows their opportunities at Yale but reduces our cohesion as a community. Students from across the political spectrum agreed that Yale’s best values demand that the University better ensure equality of access to Yale, equality of experience at Yale, and equality of opportunity after graduation.

Based on the feedback we received and our own experience, we drafted a platform for change which we’ve shared with the Yale administration and with our fellow students. Many have joined us in pressing administrators in forums we and others have organized on how Yale can formulate a policy that better meets its ideals. Hundreds of Yalies have demonstrated their support through our on-line petition. Together, we’re calling for Yale to halve the student contribution, to eliminate the family contribution for students at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, and to increase the transparency of its financial aid system and the accessibility of its financial aid office.

Last semester, students wrote to President Levin, calling on him to meet directly with undergraduates by Martin Luther King Jr. Day to discuss our concerns over his conception of “co-investment” and our agenda for reform. President Levin has so far refused. His choice not to meet with a broad cross-section of undergraduates to discuss an issue central to determining the kind of university community we’ll be a part of is deeply unfortunate. But it is not irreversible. It’s long past time for Levin, as the university’s chief policy-maker, to sit down personally with students to discuss how we can bring the ideals taught within these walls to bear on the nature of the community existing within them. Because, as Levin himself acknowledged at his open forum, “We have some work to do on this issue.”

Josh Eidelson is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.