Students question whether summer aid expansion is sufficient

Jesse Harris ’08 is going to Guatemala this summer, and although she is on financial aid at Yale, she is paying for the trip herself.

The Central American community service program Harris selected is not a Yale program, and since she did not apply for a Yale fellowship, she is responsible for paying her own way on the trip as well as meeting the summer student contribution requirement of her financial aid package.

Yale administrators announced last week that the University will widen the International Summer Award Program, an initiative started last year that provides funding for certain summer programs abroad to students who receive financial aid.

“It’s a relatively new program, and it’s growing,” Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said. “It’s a priority of the University to get more programs added. We expect the amount of students in these programs to increase.”

Although many administrators and students said they see the expansion as a positive step toward full freedom for students’ summer endeavors in future years, others, such as Harris, said they are still restricted by the limitations of the program.

“The reason I’m able to go to Guatemala is because I worked all of last summer,” Harris said. “If I want to take the summer off to go to Guatemala, I’m not able to [obtain] expanded summer aid because the program I want to do is not one of Yale’s programs.”

As a result of the ISA expansion, students participating in the Yale-in-London study abroad program who also receive financial aid during the spring semester are now eligible to receive awards along with grants toward their summer contributions. Before this change, only some recipients of Yale-funded fellowships for summer activities abroad were eligible for the summer-contribution grant portion of the ISA.

The amount of money these students will be awarded is proportional to the financial aid they receive from Yale during the academic year. A student may only receive one ISA grant over four years at Yale, except under special circumstances.

Last year, the summer contribution was $2,250. This year’s summer contribution will be determined later this month, when the Yale Corporation convenes to set this year’s budget. Last summer, 142 students received ISA grants to go overseas for Yale study abroad programs or international internships.

Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said the ISA program marks an initial movement toward complete financing.

“We know it’s the first step,” Jones said. “We fully hope to find ways to provide a broader base of funding.”

Though the ISA program may not allow for every student to fund the summer of her dreams, some students said it does encourage many to pursue options that would not otherwise be possible through Yale fellowships and grants.

Donald Henscheld ’07, who receives financial aid from Yale, said his internship at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London last summer would not have been possible without the ISA grant he received.

“It was an unpaid internship I found through UCS,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to afford it, and then I received about $7,500 through the ISA program and the whole thing was covered.”

But the fact that the ISA grant is only offered for international opportunities poses a challenge for those students receiving financial aid who are interested in traveling within the country. Margaret Sharp ’08 said that while the ISA expansion was a “great first step,” she wished she could have the chance to work domestically and not have to worry about her summer contribution.

“[The ISA] is great because it does offer students opportunities, but it doesn’t offer them the same opportunities,” Sharp said. “I don’t think you should have to do something internationally. There are many unpaid internships in the U.S. that would be great career experiences.”

Other students said they found it frustrating that the ISA award can only be applied for in one summer during a student’s four years at Yale.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me that it’s limited to one summer,” Matthew Traldi ’06 said. “It would be more enriching and in Yale’s best interest to have students doing great things during multiple summers.”

At universities across the country, high costs are a major issue for summer abroad programs, said Daniel Obst, director of membership and higher education services at the Institute of International Education.

“We did a survey in which we asked programs what the top obstacles for students were in doing these programs and, by far, No. 1 was the financial cost,” he said.

Despite the price tag, Obst said, college students are choosing to go abroad during the summer at an increasing rate. From 1993-1994, 31 percent of students studying abroad went during the summer, as opposed to during the academic term. From 2003-2004, 37 percent traveled overseas during the summer.

But many students said they still struggle with the financial issues Obst described. Frances Kelley ’08, for example, said she wanted to travel to an Arabic-speaking country for a language program, but Yale has not approved any summer abroad options in such countries with the ISA designation.

Although a fellowship could cover the costs of a program like this, Kelley still would have to find a way to pay her summer contribution, since the fellowships she is considering do not fall under ISA.

“I pursued applying for a fellowship, but they said, ‘We can give you money, but you can’t use the money to waive your summer contribution,’ ” she said.

Barbara Rowe, director of International Education and Fellowship Programs, said students should make sure to pursue all their grant and fellowship options.

“A student can receive a summer income contribution grant for any of the fellowships in the database that last four weeks or longer in support of activities abroad,” she said. “Last year, approximately 300 students received such fellowships.”

Justin Presant ’07, who said he applied but did not qualify for financial aid at Yale, said programs like the ISA neglect Yalies not on financial aid who are not “exorbitantly wealthy.”

“The assumption is that all students who aren’t on financial aid have parents who are willing to pay for their kids to go play in Africa or go play in Europe during the summer,” Presant said.

Rowe said this is an issue the administration will continue to address, and urged students who do not qualify for financial aid to search the database carefully for potential grants and fellowships.

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