Yale reforms financial aid policy

Yale President Richard Levin announced substantial changes to the University’s undergraduate financial aid policy yesterday morning, eliminating the expected parental contribution for families with incomes less than $45,000.

Families with incomes between $45,000 and $60,000 can expect to see Yale reduce their required contributions as well, Levin said. The University also announced greater funding for international students to travel home and a larger recruitment effort for low-income students.

“We think we are announcing an important message for low income families in America and throughout the world, that Yale is accessible,” Levin said.

More than 800 families at Yale, representing about 15 percent of the undergraduate population, earn less than $60,000 a year, Levin said. The increase in aid for those families, along with funding for trips home for international students and Yale’s new summer financial aid program will cost the University about $3 million this year, he said. The total financial aid budget for next year will be about $52 million.

For families with incomes between $45,000 and $60,000, reductions in the expected parental contribution will vary, with the greatest relief going to families with the lowest incomes. Families with higher incomes will receive proportionately smaller reductions in the parental contribution, while families in the middle range of this group can expect reductions of the required contribution by about 50 percent.

Yale’s decision follows a move Harvard University made last year to eliminate parental contributions for low-income families. Under Harvard’s policy, families earning under $40,000 do not pay a parental contribution, and families earning between $40,000 and $60,000 pay a reduced parental contribution.

Levin had previously told the News that Yale officials had studied Harvard’s move and were not strongly considering making a similar change at Yale because the expected contribution for families earning less than $40,000 was already small. In an interview last summer with the Yale Alumni Magazine, he said he thought families “ought to have a stake, however small, in their children’s education.” But last night, he said he became compelled to decrease the parental contribution after noting a substantial increase in low-income applicants at Harvard.

“I’m responsive to facts,” Levin said. “That to me was a pretty compelling piece of evidence in favor of this.”

Levin said he did not make up his mind to eliminate the parental contribution until after an open forum on financial aid sponsored by the Yale College Council last week.

At the forum last week and at a later sit-in at the admissions office, students protested the University’s previous financial aid policies and called on Levin to sharply reduce both the parental contribution and student self-help portions of aid.

Josh Eidelson ’06, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and one of the 15 students who was cited for trespassing at the sit-in, said this announcement is “great news,” but that the UOC still wants Yale to implement further reforms, in particular the reduction of students’ self-help levels.

“I think we’re all really gratified to see that, but we plan to keep working to push Yale towards a policy that can really make us all proud,” Eidelson said. “I think it remains a question not of possibilities but of priorities, and Yale still has more to do here.”

A group of about two dozen UOC members and students concerned about financial aid reform met last night at La Casa to discuss the changes announced yesterday. The reduction in parental contributions is a step in the right direction, UOC member Nick Seaver ’07 said after the meeting, but the University must take additional steps to increase socioeconomic diversity on campus.

“We’re all very excited about the prospect of this financial aid reform, and of the prospect of future financial aid reform, as Levin indicated that he at least would be considering in the future cutting the student contribution,” Seaver said. “We’ve shown through this reform that student voices do make a difference and that we can continue to rely on student voices to let Levin know that this is a very important issue for us.”

Seaver said the UOC had not made any specific plans for future action.

Yale College Council President Andrew Cedar ’06 said he thinks the changes will allow Yale to remain competitive with its peer institutions. He said he thinks there are probably still some remaining student concerns about the self-help contribution that today’s announcement did not eliminate.

“I think that it’s a very serious step by Yale to show commitment to reaching out to low income students,” Cedar said. “I hope we continue to have a dialogue on this between students and the administration; there will continue to be ways to improve this.”

Levin said he considered eliminating the student self-help contribution this year as well, but the University’s budget would not allow him to enact both changes simultaneously.

“It’s not possible this year to do both,” Levin said. “This seemed like the better option.”

Levin said he also thinks reducing the family contribution has more resonance among rural and low income families across America than reducing the student self-help contribution, because families think more about their own income than student work when considering Yale.

“The audience we need to reach is an audience that actually knows very little about Ivy League schools,” Levin said. “That’s where we think the untapped potential is.”

Yale officials said this morning that they will intensify student recruitment in low-income areas across the country by initiating direct mail and e-mail campaigns, and encouraging current Yale students to visit high schools in low-income districts when they return home.

“We know we can’t simply be passive,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. “I think we do actively have to seek out students from parts of the country and districts that have under representation.”

With this new policy and increased outreach to low-income students, Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said he expects Yale to see an increase in applicants next year. This year, Yale witnessed a 1.2 percent drop in applications, making it the only Ivy to experience a decrease in applications. Harvard and Princeton both saw record high numbers of applicants. While Princeton officials attributed this increase to the institution’s introduction of the Common Application, Harvard officials said their spike in applications was due to their new financial aid policy.

National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities spokesman Tony Pals said he sees Yale’s move as part an ongoing trend in substantial increases in financial aid at private higher education institutions. Students at private colleges and universities now receive four times as much private aid as they do federal aid, he said, opening the doors of many elite American universities.

“There is a growing perception that in the Ivy League education is out of reach for low-income students,” Pals said. “This is an inaccurate message which has especially been hammered home by the news media for years.”

Richard Kahlenberg, an education expert at the Century Foundation, said this change is part of a growing trend of universities to pay more attention to issues of economic diversity and may spur other institutions to implement similar changes.

Even with its competitors’ moves to reduce the family contribution component of financial aid for low-income families, Princeton Director of Financial Aid Don Betterton said Princeton is not planning on making similar changes, and the university is happy with its current policy, implemented in 2001, under which students are not required to take out loans to meet their self-help contribution.

“The benefit of the plan is students can graduate without borrowing any money,” Betterton said. “We’re satisfied with our program the way it is.”

Levin said the financial aid change is one of a package of financial aid moves that Yale officials have been working to implement over the past several months. The University also announced this morning an increase in the budget for international students, allowing them one free trip home each year. Currently the University picks up the tab for one trip home over four years for each international student.

In another recent effort to raise Yale’s international profile, University officials unveiled last month a program to fund Yale-approved summer study and internships abroad for undergraduate financial aid recipients, the first program of its kind at a top American university.

The last time Yale made significant changes to its financial aid policy was in 2001 when it unveiled a $7.5 million plan to significantly reduce the amount of money students are expected to raise through a combination of term-time work, loans and summer employment.

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