Cutting a deadline is not extending a hand

It’s no secret that the Ivy League needs to make itself more available to students from lower-income backgrounds. Last fall, a News analysis of students’ home communities showed roughly four of every five Yale students are drawn from areas wealthier, better educated and less diverse than the norm. With tuition rising by at least 5 percent annually, the median U.S. family income will soon be hard-pressed to cover the price of “lux et veritas”.

Last spring, Harvard struck a decisive blow for meritocracy by substantially increasing its financial aid, leaving Yale with quite a bit of catching up to do only a year after having matched Harvard’s last increase. Now, Harvard has taken an even bolder step, eliminating its early-admissions program. But we do not believe Yale should follow suit.

Granted, early admission has had a marked effect on the admissions process. The numbers speak for themselves: A full 40 percent of the undergraduates Yale accepted last year had applied early. The College accepted 17.7 percent of its early applicants; only 5.8 percent of the regular-decision pool made the cut. This is a pattern mirrored annually at the nation’s top schools, and there may be reason to believe that the early-admissions pool is stronger, but it is not that much stronger. The message is clear: Earlier is better.

This trend certainly suggests that the choice of early versus regular decision can be a crucial piece of the application process for a great many students. But we remain unconvinced that eliminating earlier deadlines will lead to substantial growth in the number of lower-income students who join the Ivy ranks.

Students who fall within the bounds of Yale’s or Harvard’s financial aid packages are not, as far as we know, being turned away by these need-blind institutions for financial reasons. Instead, it seems more likely that they do not consider an Ivy League education a realistic goal.

In school systems built around lower-income families, guidance counselors who live in fear of budget constraints may not push their students to apply to Yale or Harvard. Such institutions typically do not send recruiters to schools that have not demonstrated an interest in the university, and so most students at those schools remain convinced that the Ivy gates are barred to them.

That needs to change, but eliminating an admissions deadline — one that could save students hundreds of dollars in application fees — is not the way to make the college admissions process significantly more equitable. That said, two to three years will pass before we know whether Harvard was right, and in the meantime, there is plenty that Yale can do to make the Ivy League more accessible.

The Student Ambassadors Program is a terrific idea that remains tremendously limited by its funding and scope. More visits to more schools by more ambassadors — including alumni, ideally — seems the quickest recipe for more low-income recruitment, particularly during the early-admissions season. Greater administrative partnership with local high schools, a la Stanford, also remains an option Yale has yet to sufficiently explore. And, of course, Yale could — for the first time — take a decisive lead on financial aid. That would break another vicious cycle.