New aid policy sparks reaction

Yale’s recent changes in its financial aid policy — which eliminate the parent contribution for families earnings under $45,000 and reduces it for families earnings between $45,000 and $60,000 — were generally applauded by admissions and financial aid officials at peer institutions, but some officials raised concerns about the technical aspect of the new policy.

Across the Ivy League, universities in recent years have altered their financial aid policies. Experts said they expect more universities with sufficient funds to make similar moves in coming years to stay competitive with schools that have already made improvements to their financial aid policies, although officials at several top universities said they do not anticipate making changes this year. Yale’s announcement was followed two weeks later by the University of Pennsylvania, which on Friday announced a $1.8 million addition to its financial aid policy to appeal to low-income students.

Yale officials said they hope its changes will be a selling point for low-income students and increase the number of applications to the University. Yale Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw said the changes will help “level the playing field” with competitors Harvard and Princeton, which had already adopted sweeping financial aid changes.

Last year, Harvard removed the parental contribution for families earning under $40,000, and lessened it for families earning between $40,000 and $60,000. Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis said she supported Yale’s changes.

“It’s terrific, it’s wonderful, we did this and we think it’s just terrific,” McGrath Lewis said. “Its not enough to admit them, the point is to make their enrollment at Harvard or Yale or wherever a success.”

This year, Harvard saw a 15 percent increase in applications under its new policy, an increase which Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons attributed to the university’s new financial aid policy. Under Harvard’s new policy, the number of students requesting an application fee waiver increased by 16.7 percent, which indicates an jump in low-income applications.

Princeton Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Don Betterton said Princeton was satisfied with its financial aid program that has eliminated student loans and does not anticipate making additional changes in line with Harvard and Yale, but he said he thought Yale’s approach would prove to be beneficial.

“It’s a different approach, certainly they’re improving their aid program in a way that will benefit them,” Betterton said.

Officials at some universities questioned the technical aspects of Yale and Harvard’s low-income financial aid policies.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Director of Student Financial Aid Daniel Barkowitz said he is concerned with Yale’s policy for two main reasons. First, Yale’s changes do not take into account factors other than family income — such as assets, family size or medical expenses — when determining students’ eligibility for a zero or reduced family contribution. Second, Barkowitz said he was concerned that there are “artificial cutoffs” at the $45,000 and $60,000 income levels of eligibility under Yale’s new policy.

Dartmouth Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg said he was concerned that Harvard and Yale are moving away from the commitment of Ivy League schools to need-based aid by only taking into account family income under this new policy.

“I think within the financial aid community, that is viewed as essentially moving away from need-based financial aid,” Furstenberg said. “The reason I say that is that there are families with incomes of $45,000 or below who actually can make a contribution to a child’s education, based on normal needs analysis. I think that to eliminate that family contribution basically ignores need analysis which in some ways is a violation of the Ivy agreement.”

Penn Director of Financial Aid Bill Schilling also said he was concerned that Yale’s new policy does not take into account factors besides income when determining need.

“I think there’s a risk in looking at just one factor like income when you’re determining financial aid,” Schilling said. “It’s like looking at the SAT’s only for admissions decisions. I think you need to look at the whole person.”

Shaw said he believes income levels are fairly accurate predictors of financial need.

Under Penn’s new three-part policy unveiled last week, the expected summer savings contribution will be reduced and more money will be allocated to help deal with incidental expenses for low-income students. Penn will evaluate students on a case by case basis instead of setting an income cut-off.

Penn’s plan is largely the result of the efforts of first-year Penn President Amy Gutmann, who made financial aid reform a top priority for her presidency. Gutmann previously was provost at Princeton, which has been aggressive with regard to financial aid. Schilling said Penn’s decision was not specifically motivated by Yale’s announcement.

Competition likely will force other universities to improve existing policies, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators President Dallas Martin said.

“When you’re trying to compete for some of the top students, if your competition is doing something that’s going to make it more attractive to come to their institution rather than yours, you’re going to say, ‘Can we do something so students will still consider us as well?”‘ Martin said.

Gloria Bogdanoff, the assistant principal of Lowell High School, an urban public school in San Francisco, likened the competitiveness to the fare-wars in the airline industry.

“Like in the airlines, one starts reducing the prices all the other starts reducing the prices,” she said.

This may be a challenge, however, for universities with fewer financial resources than Harvard and Yale, which have the nation’s two largest endowments, said David Hawkins, the director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Guidance counselors at urban high schools across the country had mixed views of whether Yale’s changes would shake up application trends from their schools.

Jaclyn Borgerson, a counselor at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Chicago, said she thought students from her school would be more likely to apply to Yale this year because of the new financial aid policy. After hearing about Harvard’s new policy last year, she said, students felt “more motivated” to apply to Harvard.

“Seeing the support coming from an institution, I think it made them feel if they’re making that kind of outreach, it just illustrates an institution’s commitment for supporting students of lower economic status,” Borgerson said.

But Jackie Kucker, a counselor at Benjamin Cardozo High School — a public high school in Queens, N.Y. — said she thought the change would not necessarily increase the number of applicants to Yale, even though roughly 40 percent of students at Benjamin Cardozo come from families making under $60,000.

“I think the kids apply need blind,” Kucker said. “We don’t tell them to consider that part of the picture when they’re applying and they’re really going after the name and worrying about the financial piece afterward.”

Many admissions officials said they anticipated Yale would see an increase in its yield rate due to the financial aid changes, but some said that application figures would hinge on the University’s publicity and outreach efforts in low-income areas.

Shaw said his office is working hard to “get the word out” to populations that are impacted by this policy.

“We’ll be working hard on the outreach side to ensure that people understand what the policies are, and how generous they are, and that they can rest assure that they have access to very fine higher education,” Shaw said.

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