Students react to aid changes

Although Dambudzo Muzenda ’07 has already spent almost two years at Yale, she has taken only one trip to visit her family in Harare, Zimbabwe. She presumed that her trip home over winter break this year would be the only time she would see her family until graduation — until she heard about the University’s new financial aid policy.

“I think as a whole, the policy is really good, and it showed the administration responded to students’ needs,” Muzenda said. “There was a serious problem and I think this addresses the heart of the matter that some students from poor backgrounds don’t have equal footing with some of their peers. Particularly for international students, it’s hard enough just to be away from home, and the chance to go home will make the Yale experience just that much more worthwhile. I think it will attract a lot more international students.”

The new financial aid policy issued by Yale President Richard Levin yesterday grants foreign students four paid trips home instead of the one trip previously allotted. Although the new plan does not address every qualm students had with the previous policy, the overall reaction on campus was positive.

Members of both the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Yale College Council said they were satisfied with the new policy. The two organizations had each been pursuing different methods to achieve an overall goal of financial aid reform. While the YCC had been conducting meetings with members of the Yale administration, including Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Richard Shaw, the UOC took a more radical approach. The group organized last Thursday’s rally and a number of their members participated in a sit-in that day at the Yale Undergraduate Admissions Office.

Marissa Brittenham ’07, who helped draft the YCC proposal for financial aid reform, said the new policy is a “fantastic step in the right direction.”

“I’m very impressed,” Brittenham said. “It definitely rivals Harvard’s program, and I think the commitment to recruiting low-income students is great, and I’m so glad the University recognized that … The fact that [Yale is] covering international students taking trips home every year is just great.”

Many members of the UOC also said the plan was a move in the right direction. Yonah Freemark ’08, who is active in the UOC, was ecstatic after reading the new policy.

“I think it’s a really great change for Yale and will make us better than Harvard and Princeton,” Freemark said, speaking directly of the change to eliminate the parental contribution to all students whose families make under $45,000.

Harvard eliminated parental contributions for students whose families make under $40,000.

“Those $5,000 will include a few more,” Freemark said. “I also appreciate that they’ve given international students four trips home. International students have families to see also. Basically, it’s great. I’m very happy.”

The positive reactions to the new policy were far from limited to just UOC and YCC members.

Bianca Bracho-Perez ’06, who signed the UOC online petition, said she is happy to see a policy like this finally arrive.

“It will reduce the financial strain on families and give more opportunities for students applying,” Bracho-Perez said. “I mean, I don’t see many downsides to it. If anything, it should have come sooner.”

Steffi Wu ’07, who also signed the petition, said she thinks the new policy seems substantial.

“I’m optimistic,” Wu said. “There should be $52 million more for the next school year in financial aid. I’m not a math major, so I’m not sure if that’s just a drop in the ocean of Yale’s funds or an actual wave, but I like that a change has been made.”

For those whom the policy directly affects, any change is a good change.

Flora Mendoza ’08, who signed the petition and attended the UOC protest at the admission’s office, said that changes in the policy will directly affect her, and that the good news “made [her] day.”

“I think it’s a good thing that Yale has done what Harvard and Princeton already did,” Mendoza said. “[Levin] will gain a lot more respect because he listened and did something about it.”

Although reception to the new policy has been largely positive, there certainly are some students who do not think the policy addressed enough. The policy does not change student contribution to tuition, the reduction of which had been a main demand.

Julia Gonzales ’05, who attended the protest and a UOC meeting, said she sees the new policy is far superior to the old one, but that there is still more to be done.

“It’s not everything that I think students were wanting, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Gonzales said. “Adjusting the family contribution is huge, yeah. But at the same time, a lot of students still work a lot of hours.”

Even those who expressed extremely positive sentiments regarding the new policy also see that it is lacking in the student contribution area.

Freemark said that for all of his excitement about the new policy, it has its flaws.

“[Yale] did not respond to all of our demands,” he said. “The main thing that they missed is they haven’t changed student contributions … As a member of the UOC’s campaign to improve the financial aid here at Yale, I’m very happy about what they’ve decided to do, but there is more to be demanded of Yale.”

But a reduction to family contributions could result in students having to contribute less on their own, both Brittenham and Muzenda said.

“It’s still a factor, but if parents aren’t doing family contributions, it’s probably easier for students, because they can get help from their parents which they couldn’t get while there was still a family contribution,” Brittenham said.

Muzenda agreed that without family contributions, students — especially those who have to help pay for their family contribution as well as their student contribution — will have a far easier time.

“I think the philosophy of the administration so far is students should be invested in their education,” she said. “The problem is you can’t really separate the family from the student … So while it would be ideal to eliminate student contributions, at least this makes it easier for that distinction to hold true. Parents are in a better position to bail you out if you face financial difficulties. I can see the positive aspects of student contribution. You feel that your efforts are going into your education.”

Students, including many Undergraduate Organizing Committee members, meet at La Casa Cultural to discuss yesterday’s announcement about financial aid changes. The new policy eliminates the parental contribution for low-income students.
Ashley Day
Students, including many Undergraduate Organizing Committee members, meet at La Casa Cultural to discuss yesterday’s announcement about financial aid changes. The new policy eliminates the parental contribution for low-income students.

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