Next year, the University will announce its decision on whether to construct two new residential colleges. This expansion would have a tremendous impact on Yale. In the process of gauging this impact, we must judge expansion not solely on feasibility and effect, but also on whether it is the best possible use of our resources. Instead, with the resources necessary to expand, Yale could drastically slash undergraduate tuition. With such an action, Yale would alter the landscape of higher education.
Every year, Yale turns away plenty of deserving applicants. There is no question that increasing the student body by 10 percent, as mentioned in the News, would better achieve the mission of the University. Cognizant of their own admissions difficulties, Harvard and Princeton are significantly expanding. But to redefine Yale as the low-tuition Ivy — to take one giant step toward changing the image of the Ivy League — is that not also a worthy goal? Would we not do a more effective job of attracting, admitting and matriculating the best applicants? Would we not drastically shake a nationwide trend toward higher and higher tuition?
We definitely have the resources to make a decision of this magnitude. According to President Levin, the University spends a minimum of $90,000 yearly educating each undergraduate. Only $43,000 of this cost is remitted through tuition, room and board. Additionally, 40 percent of Yale students receive need-based financial aid awards valued at $25,000 on average. Assuming no change in aid policy or distribution, the University would be spending over $30 million on these 530 new students per year.
The cost of creating two new colleges must be enormous. It has been rumored to cost well over $100 million only to renovate Silliman. Assuming it might cost twice as much to build a college — surely a lowball figure — as it would to renovate one, the University would commit to a $400 million construction project.
We must also add more faculty to teach and more space for teaching. Adding 10 percent more faculty at the average rate of tenure pay is another $10 million per year. This growth is beyond the ongoing plans for new departmental buildings and two additional colleges. Acknowledging this necessity, Yale recently received clearance to use the space off Prospect Street for academic and residential use. One can only speculate on the other costs of expansion, but a half-billion dollars of construction and $40 million per year in added expenditures is one heck of a place to start.
As calculated from the cost of tuition and aid awards, the university collected about $122 million this year from tuition payments. To drastically cut tuition, say from $33,000 to $10,000, would cost in the neighborhood of $80 million this year — a viable tradeoff to the decision to expand. Yale cannot and must not take lightly this opportunity to make tuition vastly more affordable. Nor should Yale neglect its ability to influence other universities in a time of growing strain for college students and their families.
The University, admittedly, is unlikely to take this course. However, there are clear merits to such a discussion. In the context of spending hundreds of millions to enhance the mission of Yale, how can we now view the perennial issue of undergraduate financial aid? When we’re considering an expense of this size, how difficult would it be to halve the student work contribution ($4 million this year)? How difficult would it be to drastically cut tuition for families not privileged enough to earn six figures?
Graced with the resources either to expand its size or to reject the idea of crippling tuition, the Yale administration cannot choose wrongly. But instead of just imitating the worthy goals of our peers, we could and should dynamically change the way families and students think about and pay for college. Yale has the ability to lead the nation in access to higher education. This opportunity is one that we cannot afford to squander.
Larry Wise is a junior in Morse College and a former representative to the Yale College Council. Zach Marks is a sophomore in Saybrook College and the secretary of the Yale College Council.