If you walked across Beinecke Plaza last week, you no doubt saw the Undergraduate Organizing Committee’s installation on financial aid reform. Along with letters from students supporting reforms and a list of relevant statistics, the installation includes a countdown to Feb. 20, the day by which they demand President Levin and the members of the Yale Corporation publicly commit to financial aid reform. The Corporation members will meet before spring break to finalize the budget for the 2006-07 school year, and they must take action now if we are to see a reduction in the student contribution this fall.
Last year, the Yale Corporation responded to broad student demands for financial aid reform by significantly reducing or eliminating the parent contribution for families making less than $60,000 per year. These changes were an admirable and important step in making Yale more accessible to qualified low-income students, but they ignored the student contribution portion of the financial aid package. As such, they failed to address the continued burden that students on financial aid experience. Students receiving financial aid are expected to contribute $6,650 per year to their education: $2,250 from summer work and an additional $2,200 each semester. For me, this means working two jobs for a total of 15 hours each week. For other students, it means working up to 20 hours per week — in other words, more time than they actually spend in class. With so much of our time monopolized by working, students on financial aid can have difficulty finding sufficient time to do classwork, much less participate in all that Yale has to offer in terms of extracurricular activities.
Certainly, college is a balancing act even for students who are not receiving aid, and work-study jobs undoubtedly provide valuable work experience. I find my own jobs not only educational but also personally gratifying. Nevertheless, when 40 percent of the student body is forced to work up to 20 hours per week to pay for school while the remaining students have a choice in how they spend their time, and the option of not working at all, the result is a financially stratified campus in which students on aid struggle to have the advantages that are taken for granted by their wealthier peers.
In an unprecedented meeting this past November, President Levin sat down with members of the UOC to discuss financial aid. As one of the six students attending the meeting, I was thrilled that the administration was open to hearing student opinion, but the meeting was ultimately a disappointment. President Levin explained that the student body at Yale would always be stratified, pointing out that some students will always get to take more vacations than others or have nicer clothes. But the campaign for financial aid reform is not about creating a campus of utopian equality, and to suggest that vacations and clothes are as important as the opportunity to fully participate in student life is to imply that a college education is a luxury which should only be truly accessible to those who can afford it. Students on financial aid do not expect paid trips to Paris or a new wardrobe, but they have every right to demand an equality of opportunity on campus and the chance to fully engage in their academic lives without a $6,650 burden hanging over their head.
Moreover, reforming financial aid is not an action that would singularly affect students receiving aid; other students would also feel the benefits of a reduced student contribution. In talking to students about their financial aid concerns over the past few months, I have heard from many students who are not on financial aid but complain that their roommate or best friend is never around because he or she is always at work. Reducing the student contribution would have a positive effect for everyone on campus.
For these reasons, the UOC’s platform for financial aid reform has at its center a call for a 50 percent reduction in the student contribution. The fact that more than 2,000 students signed a petition in support of financial aid reform — twice the number that signed a petition at this time last year — reveals what a YCC survey has already shown: Students still see financial aid reform as a priority for the University. In a News article earlier this month, Financial Aid Director Caesar Storlazzi said that in dealing with demands for financial aid reform, it is important to listen to students (“Dwight Hall presses for more aid changes,” 2/1). Now the administration has the opportunity to listen to students and answer their demands.
Forty years ago, Yale became the first university to adopt a need-blind admissions policy, allowing students to enroll who otherwise would not have been financially capable of doing so. Today, the administration has the chance to recommit to that goal of equality and accessibility. Financial aid reform is not only financially possible for the University, it is absolutely necessary. We call on President Levin and the Yale administration to listen to students and make financial aid reform a priority.
Margaret Sharp is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.