Aid aimed in right direction, but not there yet

At a school that prides itself as a “global university,” offering financial aid for students who study abroad is an idea whose time has come. The new program Yale rolled out Tuesday is innovative — no other school of Yale’s caliber guarantees need-based aid for summer study — and will undoubtedly create new opportunities for students to expand their education. Just as importantly, this new commitment conveys the message that the University has an interest in supporting its financial-aid students beyond New Haven classrooms, while also signaling that the benefits of a more global Yale should be available to all undergraduates. If the University is serious about its stated goal of seeing every Yalie study, work or volunteer abroad during his or her undergraduate career, the International Study Award Program, which will cover aid recipients’ expected summer contribution and some of their costs, is a good start.

But it is hard to see this new program as more than a first step. The new grants will cover several valuable programs Yale runs, and we are excited about the possibility of the University setting up shop in more places around the world. But there are a vast array of opportunities abroad — whether in volunteering, unpaid internships or research programs — that are valuable but not Yale-sponsored. Likewise, while we understand Yale’s emphasis on international study, it is important to recognize that financial need precludes many students from pursuing worthwhile activities stateside, too. So we hope Yale truly views its summer aid initiative as a pilot program, and is open to changing it in ways that ensure it best serves its intended recipients.

More broadly, the question Yale still faces — and one the ISA program only begins to answer — is how we can make certain we are attracting the best students in the country, regardless of how wealthy they are. Last week, the University announced that the number of Yale College applicants dropped slightly after hitting a record high a year ago. That’s nothing to be ashamed of; indeed, the fall came after four years in which Yale’s applicant pool grew by more than 50 percent. But it should still give Yale pause that, in contrast, every other Ivy (except Penn, which has not yet released its numbers) reported a spike in applicants this year. Even more striking, both Harvard and Princeton saw over 15 percent jumps in applicants — gains some have attributed to well-publicized financial-aid packages the two schools have instituted in recent years.

One year’s numbers do not make a trend. And despite the PR push accompanying the Harvard program, in particular, the jury remains out as to whether low-income students are actually getting a better deal in Cambridge than in New Haven. But this year’s college application season suggests high school seniors may be getting just that impression. And if Yale wants to ensure that this year’s numbers are not the beginning of a new pattern, it needs to send a better signal — along with whatever changes are needed to back it up — that students will not be making a financial sacrifice by choosing Yale over one of its peer institutions. On that count, Yale, despite its study abroad proposal, has not yet reached its destination.

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