Recruiting a better Yale takes student help

This will be a little different than what you normally read on this page.

This is not a rant about a policy. It’s not an argument about a political issue. And it doesn’t mention GESO.

It’s about something that’s already happening. In the following sentences, we won’t be asking you to agree with a theory or to think hard about the impact of a national debate. We’re going to ask that you actually do something. And something that will change this school in tangible, significant ways.

But first, let’s step back.

After the sweeping announcement in March that Yale would eliminate the expected parental contribution for all students whose families earn less than $45,000 annually, we cheered, hugged and did cartwheels. Because pound for pound, Yale seemed to have as good program for low-income students as anyone else in the country.

But now we have a chance to leave the competition in the dust.

The Admissions Office and the Yale College Council have jointly begun a new initiative called the Student Ambassadors Program. It’s going to send hundreds of Yale student to low-income areas — rural and urban — over Thanksgiving break to do information sessions at high schools. This program, a first for Yale, will put us on the cutting edge in university efforts to reach out to socio-economically disadvantaged students.

It’s a cheap and efficient program, because it only asks that students visit schools near their hometowns, where they will be over Thanksgiving anyway.

And it’s going to be a highly effective program, too. The SAT has an optional box for students to check off their family’s annual earnings. So the Admissions Office, with some basic computer work, can correlate SAT scores and estimated family income. The result is that we won’t be spending time encouraging kids to apply to Yale and setting them up to be rejected. What we will be doing is focusing on high-achieving high schools that should be sending kids to Yale, but, for whatever reason, aren’t.

In the last few years, there’s been ample evidence that increasing a recruiting presence can lead to an immediate jump in applications because it sends such a clear message that the University is interested. In Latin America in 2003 and in Pakistan in 2004, Yale made an extra effort to recruit students and saw a sudden, significant rise in applicants.

So it is not unrealistic to have big hopes about the ambassadors program.

And, no matter what your take on Yale’s new financial aid policy, it’s difficult not to see the ambassadors program as the logical next step in aid reform at Yale. Yale’s new policy sends a strong message about the school’s commitment to educating students of all economic backgrounds. But it is important to acknowledge that this message will not get through to those it really has to reach through a policy change alone. There are plenty of kids who still aren’t truly convinced Yale is a feasible option for them. And they won’t be convinced until we go to where they actually live and go to school, and show that Yale really wants them.

More importantly, though, Yale’s commitment to the ambassadors program shows a fundamental understanding of the amazing position of privilege that Yale and its peer institutions occupy. It’s easy to lose track of the fact that vast resources and impeccable prestige of elite universities do not exist simply to replicate themselves — to bring in more money, new awards, and better rankings. Great universities are supposed to make the world better.

And the most direct way a university can affect the world is through the people it sends out into the world. Recent progress notwithstanding, the student body here still tilts toward the high end of the socioeconomic spectrum, so the students who are shaped here don’t get exposure to as full a range of experiences as they should.

And that’s why it’s so important that Yale find the best students it can, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make. A lofty goal, perhaps. But it is one that has suddenly become much more possible for Yale to achieve.

So we have a very real opportunity to bring a whole new group of people to Yale in the next few years. The final part of the puzzle, though, is also the most important. It’s the Yale students who will be the actual ambassadors. The administrative support, the infrastructure and the money are all already there. At this point, what is still needed is your commitment to be a part of the program in the fall.

Steven Syverud, a junior in Branford College, is president-elect of the YCC. Jesse Wolfson is an undergraduate recruitment coordinator in the Admissions Office and a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.