The Undergraduate Organizing Committee wants the circumstances of our birth to determine the particulars of how we pay for our undergraduate education. Or, at least, that’s how it appears.
Through self-interested whining, the UOC has spent the past few years pushing Yale to increase financial aid to families and decrease the parent contribution, and has even suggested complete financial disinvestment of students from their educations. Rather than seeking an equitable solution, the UOC wants to turn Yale’s endowment into the world’s most unjustifiable entitlement program.
The UOC is right to believe we should take a step back to assess the current system of funding undergraduate education at its upper echelons — i.e., within the top tier of the Ivy League. To further complicate the problem, Princeton, Harvard and Yale are engaged in a race to the top for those at the bottom. Regardless of how much the UOC likes to take credit, pressure to remain competitive with our sister institutions was perhaps the most significant factor in last year’s changes.
The system is rough for everybody. If your parents are poor, they pay nothing; Yale picks up close to 95 percent of the tab — the true cost to you is a few hours a week of shelving books in the library. Tougher luck to those in the middle: They have either spent years scraping to put money away, or they have to take out a second mortgage. If your parents are on the wealthier end, they are forced to subsidize this system for everybody else — including an increasingly ridiculous set of ingrate graduate students whose stipend continues to increase in approximately the same measure as undergraduate tuition.
Proposals for aid “reform” generally center on giving larger grants to families in the middle or helping students financially disinvest from their Yale education. The UOC wants parental ability to pay to be the primary factor in determining the cost of our Yale education; they have bought into the current system. I haven’t.
The key problem in this debate is that we have acquiesced to considering the income of “families” at all. Somehow, in the great meritocracy that is supposed to be the American system of higher education, we’ve managed to maintain the antiquated notion that parents are supposed to be the ones writing the checks — and if your parents can’t write the check, well, the University should pay. We’ve created a pervasive culture of entitlement in higher education.
Though I agree the financial circumstances of our births should not affect our ability to attend Yale, the current system is a profound confusion of values. The fundamental theory that underlies this institution is that although we may enter on different footing, we all leave as equals — or, at least, we all leave having had an equal chance to excel on our own merits. Nothing prohibits a young woman from rural America from signing with Google for $80,000 a year plus stock options, or the wealthy scion of corporate-lawyer parents to choose employment with Teach for America.
A system that proffered true fairness would be one in which, as all Yale students equally reap the benefit of a Yale diploma, all Yale students equally share the cost. If the UOC’s “reforms” were taken to their logical conclusion, we would achieve a misguided system that could hardly be called fair; all students reap the benefit, but the financial burden is instead borne by some parents, some alumni and the University itself.
I propose a restructure to the undergraduate financial aid plan. Yale should streamline its tuition process to be “all-inclusive.” This “Club Med” option has long been floated in certain circles, but never before realized. Tuition, room, board, the reasonable cost of travel home, books and a supplies allowance redeemable at the bookstore would all be covered under a single-price system. There are myriad additional advantages to this method, such as reining in the high cost of textbooks, because the University would have an incentive to negotiate with publishers. All Yale undergraduates would be required to take out special education loans from the University, which would be mildly subsidized and remain payment-free until graduation and during graduate school. Much like in Yale’s professional schools, a loan remission program would absolve teachers, government workers, students employed or volunteering full time in developing countries and possibly even non-profit employees from the obligations of debt service. The loans would have prepayment prohibitions to prevent wealthy parents from giving “loan forgiveness” as a graduation present. I am shocked and disgusted that recent Yale graduates earning $50,000 a year or more can fail to feel that they owe their parents, or their University — whoever paid for their education — the debt of its true cost.
This idea is not revolutionary. Indeed, the Law School, the School of Management and the School of Medicine operate (to differing degrees) under the understanding that those institutions instill in graduates the capacity for great (or at least firmly upper-middle-class) wealth. The same is true, to a great degree, for graduates of Yale College. We have made it. It is time for us to recognize that the price of our educations should be borne not by our parents, not by the University, not by the alumni, not by society. The financial burden of our education should fall on us alone.
L. David Peters ’05 is a Silver Scholar at the Yale School of Management.