Unlike Yale, Harvard recognizes its societal sway

In case there were any lingering doubt about the relative merits of financial aid policies among the top three private universities in the country (“Financial aid policies defy easy rankings” 11/1: “If a student just wanted to pick a college by which school had the best financial aid, I’m not sure they could do that,” [Caesar] Storlazzi said. “I’m not sure I could do that either.”), Harvard’s bombshell on Monday utterly obliterated those ambiguities.

With one flick of the wrist, Harvard catapulted itself into at least a tie for first place with Princeton and further opened the already formidable gap between itself and Yale in terms of financial aid policies. With these changes, Harvard has once again demonstrated its underlying philosophical differences with Yale about the role of the private Ivy League university in combating unequal access to private education.

Whether intentionally directed at Yale or not, Harvard’s changes hit our university, in my opinion, in the three most blatantly weak areas. First of all, Harvard has completely eliminated its assumption that students will take out loans in order to cover the costs of their summer income contribution and their term-time self-help contribution. This change brings Harvard perfectly in line with the policy that Princeton established several years ago, while further highlighting the insufficiencies of Yale’s policies. (As of 2006, the average Yale student graduates with approximately $13,000 in loan debt).

Second, Harvard has wiped away its assumption that families should take out home equity loans in order to cover the cost of higher education (once again consistent with policies implemented by Princeton several years ago). The 568 Group, a union of 28 of the most elite private universities in the United States, suggests that universities include home equity in asset calculation up to 1.2 times the amount of the family’s income. Yale is a member of this group, while Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford are not, allowing them certain freedoms in their determination of need.

Finally, in its most drastic and symbolic move, Harvard has recognized the disproportionate burden of financial aid policies on middle-income students. Since Harvard and Yale announced several years ago that they would eliminate parental contributions from families earning under $60,000 and $45,000, respectively, middle- and upper-middle-income families have been under the most pressure, often tapping into $50,000 home equity loans in order to cover college tuition. Harvard has just announced a simple, sensible policy that will set parental contribution at about 10 percent of household income for families earning less than $180,000, while preserving the zero parental contribution for families earning less than $60,000.

Harvard is the first university to institutionally recognize this undue burden on middle-class families, and it is with this move that it seems to have overtaken even Princeton.

One of the most radical changes in this policy — and one that I anticipate will not be fully appreciated by the media — is its simplicity. Parents of middle-income students applying to Harvard now have a general rule-of-thumb to use in planning ahead for tuition costs. As the Yale financial aid administration has frequently noted, financial aid calculations are bogged down by esoteric contingencies, with about 150 different variables entering into the picture for any given determination of need.

Harvard seems to erase all of that. In my experience, Yale’s packages are particularly hard to decipher for students when it comes down to figuring out how much to write a check for, much less how the institution arrived at its number. Harvard’s move is a less tangible benefit in the larger framework of this shift, but an extremely significant one nonetheless in dissolving the veil of incomprehensibility that leads to so much stress for students on financial aid.

In meeting or even exceeding the standard that Princeton set, Harvard has really put Yale between a rock and a hard place. Before Monday, Princeton had been a sort of lone wolf in the financial aid landscape. An “anomaly,” as President Levin once said. Before Monday, Yale could prop up its pretenses about having a financial aid program comparable to Harvard’s.

Now, of the schools commonly acknowledged as the top three private research universities in the United States, two have enacted radically proactive policies while one remains obstinately satisfied with the status quo. One has the sense that, now, Harvard and Princeton are jockeying for position, neck and neck for first and second, while Yale lags by a solid two or three lengths in third.

When Princeton was the only clear frontrunner on financial aid, the Yale administration, in my opinion, refrained from radically restructuring financial aid because Princeton was a manageable threat. Among low-income applicants, Princeton is still widely perceived as an institution mired in old money. Yale had a quantifiable competitive advantage stealing cross-admits away from Princeton because of the perception of Yale as more tolerant of ethnic minority, homosexual and low-income students. To a large extent, these generalizations about the schools have insulated Yale against a powerful recruiting threat from down south.

I doubt that I was the only person at this university to see through the Yale Corporation’s all-too-coincidental decision just this “last weekend” to enact a major financial aid initiative. As President Levin has noted in justifying his relationship with China and specifically President Hu Jintao, private universities in the United States have enough money and enough political clout to turn the tides of an entire nation.

Likewise, Yale has the financial and political power to actively combat unequal access to education in the United States. Harvard and Princeton have recognized their societal sway, and have proactively set intentions on disturbing class hierarchies.

Yet, the Yale administration — and I extend this criticism especially to President Levin himself — has repeatedly proven that it will act on financial aid only when necessary to keep up with the Ivy League Joneses. When President Levin graces us with the details of his major financial aid initiative, I can only hope that, in doing so, his heart is in the right place.

Andrew Williamson is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    just a quick question. What is the cross admit advantage over Princeton. The NYT reported it last year as 62-38, but that was based on data from 99. Do you know what it is currently and can you cite a source.

  • Anonymous

    When I was a college student at Yale a few years ago, my parents made under $50,000 and paying more than 10% of their income in tuition. My family still thought that Yale was being incredibly generous, and it was. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

    Yale should NOT attempt to match Harvard's financial aid policy. The value of a Yale education is worth far more than even ful tuition, and Yale is already far more than sufficiently generous for people of all backgrounds to attend. The sort of student who would choose a different school because of a few thousand dollars a year is not the kind of student who has the right priorities, and probably not the kind of student who would have much to contribute to Yale.

  • Anonymous

    It's amazing that $150K per year is considered "middle class" and "in need of help."

    Have you seen the REST of the world lately? Most people are scraping by to find a roach to eat. Like UC-Berkeley and other great institutions, Yale's priority should be educating leaders and improving society as a whole, not pandering to the "middle class" families who think they need another BMW. If that's what those families really want, instead of having their kid attend Yale (the best undergraduate program in the worlds hands-down), they can send their kids somewhere else.

    I'm all for improved aid for people who really can't afford it, including international students (an area in which Yale has shown tremendous leadership), but I do not support aid if it just lets people buy a new 10,000SF house in suburban New Jersey.

  • Anonymous

    Surely you mean to say that Yale, Harvard, and Princeton are the top three private undergraduate institutions among research universities? Stanford and MIT - even with its limited humanities faculties - surely surpass Yale and Princeton as private research universities.

  • Anonymous

    I don't know why there's opposition here. Yale has billions upon billions of dollars, so there's no reason why a Yale education shouldn't be more affordable for everyone. The more affordable Yale is, the better students it will be able to attract.

    I recognize the 10:05 poster's point that a Yale education is far more valuable than the cost of tuition. I think there is a lot of truth in that. The problem is that subjective value doesn't coincide with present-day realities of attending a private college in the United States, especially for someone who wants to "do good" after school.

    Debt is crippling, and if Yale works to reduce the post-college indebtedness of its students, its students will, in turn, have an increased incentive to go into careers in public service, education, journalism, the arts, and other paths that are often infeasible with large amounts of outstanding debt.

    Maybe you disagree with me, but I think this is something that Yale should encourage.

    I was lucky in that my parents paid for my Yale education. I can tell you, however, that as much as I love the place, Yale may not have been worth it if I had graduated with $100,000 in debt.

    Let me also say this--I don't think it's always the case that you can blame "middle class" families for not wanting to pay for a college education. Newsflash, people: $150,000 is not a lot of money for one household that's paying $40,000 a year (or potentially more, if there are multiple children in college) in tuition.

  • Anonymous

    "The more affordable Yale is, the better students it will be able to attract."

    That sounds like an uncontroversial assumption, but I beg to differ in any case… True, if financial aid increases, the number of applications and yield will almost certainly increase as well, and Yale will be even more selective. But the question is, what kind of student currently turns down Yale who would have gone if granted more money? It seems to me that someone who makes such an irrational (in my opinion) decision probably does not have all the qualities that we want in a successful Yale student, and I wouldn't want this kind of person to take the spot of another super-talented high school senior who always dreamed of going to Yale regardless of the cost.

  • Anonymous

    "…such an irrational (in my opinion) decision probably does not have all the qualities that we want in a successful Yale student…"

    Middle class parents may be making $150,000, but in order for their children to attend a good public school, it often means living in an expensive neighborhood. When this is the case, a few thousand dollars absolutely matter.

  • Anonymous

    "…such an irrational (in my opinion) decision probably does not have all the qualities that we want in a successful Yale student…"

    I don't know what "qualities" you're talking about, because I don't think you can blame anyone for wanting to avoid going into debt. I doubt you have any experience with significant amounts of debt, so let me tell you -- it is awful. Yale, Harvard and Princeton are sufficiently similar schools that a better aid package would reasonably justify choosing one over the other. Let's be honest--the schools are very similar.

    "The sort of student who would choose a different school because of a few thousand dollars a year is not the kind of student who has the right priorities"

    Same thing. If your parents pay for your school, you probably don't realize that a few thousand dollars can be EXTREMELY burdensome. We like to think of Yale as the best, but when we step back, it seems clear that there are a lot of other schools that would be equally appealing to a top candidate. So if a candidate is faced with 3 choice, HYP, say, that seem at least relatively similar, it is TOTALLY reasonable to pick the one with the best aid package.

  • Anonymous

    How many bright high school students are there who aren't even considering Yale right now because they assume they'll never be able to afford it? How many parents are pushing their children toward state colleges rather than Yale or other Ivy League schools because of the cost?

    It's not just those who have applied to Yale that lower tuition would attract, its those who aren't even considering applying to Yale.

  • Anonymous

    "How many bright high school students are there who aren't even considering Yale right now because they assume they'll never be able to afford it?"

    If these people exist, they do not deserve to attend Yale. The financial aid is already far more than what is needed for students of all backgrounds to attend. This has been the case for decades, and today financial aid is even more generous than it was a few years ago. Anyone smart enough to get into Yale should be smart enough to research the financial aid policy and find out this simple fact. If someone cannot do this research, they shouldn't be at Yale (or any Ivy) even if they have a perfect SAT score.

  • Anonymous

    "Anyone smart enough to get into Yale should be smart enough to research the financial aid policy and find out this simple fact. If someone cannot do this research, they shouldn't be at Yale (or any Ivy) even if they have a perfect SAT score."

    This misses the point. The issue is that the people described by the above poster will choose to attend one of Yale's peer schools instead of Yale, if the peer school has a superior aid policy. That is, Yale will lose the battle for cross-admits with Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and whoever else could be considered in this peer group.

    I also don't think you have any right to judge the sufficiency of Yale's aid policy for everyone. Maybe it's sufficient for you personally, but you can't comment on others, because you don't know whether there exist good reasons NOT to go into debt. For other prospective students who are interested in Yale but are also equally interested in other non-Ivy schools (which, despite what you seem to be insinuating, is totally reasonable), aid may very well be a good reason to choose one school over another.

  • Anonymous

    Since when are Yale and Harvard the centers of the universe? There are hundreds of good schools out there and most have some financial aid available; after all, it's about what you do with your education, not where you receive it. Too many high school students (and parents) fall on their swords when they don't get into one of the ivies.

  • Anonymous

    I think there are two issues: (1) that some students who apply to HYP will choose H or P over Y in part (or only) because of the financial aid package (which is the issue raised by Dec. 13, 9:35); and (2) that some students do not apply to Yale because they assume that they will not be able to afford it (which is the issue raised by 9:06). I agree that (1) is reasonable, but (2) is not at all reasonable.

    And let's also consider that a first-year analyst straight out of college at any investment bank makes a total compensation of approximately $140K (and more as a second year), which makes much of this debate rather silly.

  • Anonymous

    Amen, Andrew! You the man!! Keep it up, my friend! Hopefully Yale will see the light, and at least match Harvard.

  • Anonymous

    The 12/12 5:18 and the 12/14 11:53 postes are dead on! Very well said.
    Yale could SOOOOOO easily afford to do away with loans and term time work obligation. Yalies who graduate with significant debt, or who had significant term time work obligations, have a very different while at Yale, and after they graduate, compared to students whose income was low enough that Yale funded their entire education (as it should given the size of the endowment) and students whose family can pay in full without hardship whatever the cost is. Why should a middle class kid have a worse experience while at Yale, and after it, merely because of how much money his family has (not poor enough or rich enough to be able to "go for free" (as far as the student is concerned; Mom and Dad in the well to do family pay in full).
    This is so no brainer: Match P and H or commit to being an afterthought to a lot of the best students in the nation.

  • Anonymous

    "And let's also consider that a first-year analyst straight out of college at any investment bank makes a total compensation of approximately $140K (and more as a second year), which makes much of this debate rather silly."

    This is part of the problem. While investment banking is a great fit for some people, Yale should try to ensure that as few people as possible take a job right after college "just for the money." As Yale gives more and more aid, fewer and fewer people will take i-banking jobs who don't genuinely want them.

    As the 5/18 Dec. 12 poster pointed out, Yale should do all it can to promote careers in public service, academia, and the arts. I don't mean to knock investment banking, because there are some people who genuinely do love it, but there are also people who take these jobs because they're afraid about making enough money.

    Let me add one caveat. I don't believe anyone is "entitled" to free money. But I do believe that a prominent university such as Yale has a responsibility to encourage its students to "change the world," as trite as that sounds, rather than selling out to corporate interests. This argument for more aid is not based on the idea that Yale isn't generous as it is--I actually happen think they're pretty good at encouraging these things already. There's just always room for improvement.

  • Anonymous

    In my experience, the people I know who choose Yale over Harvard are well-off students from prestigious families who went to a top northeastern prep school. This is because middle class students tend to see Harvard as far more prestigious than Yale, but the wealthy are more likely to see both schools as equally prestigious. No matter how much financial aid Yale gives, middle class students will always choose Harvard over Yale if they get in.

  • Anonymous

    11:21 12/14: How many current students had their college research done for them by their "guidance counselors," private tutors or parents? Do none of them deserve to attend?

  • Anonymous

    It's time for Yale to steal the show and announce that all students will attend for free. Somebody tally the tab and solicit the big guns to support it. Imagine that! Yale become one big Rhodes program!

  • Anonymous

    "No matter how much financial aid Yale gives, middle class students will always choose Harvard over Yale if they get in."

    That's not really true at all. I'm a middle class student (one of those unfortunates whose family is particularly burdened under the current system, and my family makes far less than 100k a year), and I don't see that. Also being a military child, I've been to several schools and known people from all over the country and world. While I agree there is some sentiment, here and there, that Harvard is a bit more prestigious than Yale, most people I've encountered--students, parents, and teachers--see them as more or less equals at the top. Let's face it, to most people, all elites, especially HYP, tend to look somewhat monolithic.

    In my experience, the main reason why a good number choose Harvard (or even Princeton, though apparently not so much) over Yale is for purely financial reasons, which I agree are totally reasonable. In fact, given the significant similarities between the elite universities (yes, there are noteworthy distinctions, but as an earlier post stated, at the end of the day, they are just not that different), it's very reasonable to say that if Yale doesn't match or at least meaningfully compare to H and P this time around, they're going to lose out big time. I don't think it at all unreasonable or disloyal to say that if I were currently a high school senior looking at HYP, while I really love Y (hence why I'm here now), it would be a distant third to H and P. After all, it's not just a matter of what I want, I am part of a family that's heavily impacted by the monetary burdens of the institution I choose (and even on a personal level, I didn't come to Yale to have to sell my soul to iBanking just to get out of debt).

    That said, the themes of 12/14 11:21 and 12/13 12:25 are horridly insulting and uncalled for. Furthermore, they simply seem, as was pointed out in subsequent posts, to miss the point entirely or else completely disregard, in their callous and self-important ignorance, the very real hardships faced by many families and students either attending or aspiring to attend these elite institutions. In summary, Yale needs to step up. It's meaningless to claim to the high ground in reaching out for diversity as their financial aid system is now by comparison (especially considering UPenn's announcement yesterday).

    Also, very good point, Dara. Not everyone (particularly the average accomplished high school senior) has time to be well-versed in the entire history and intricacies of college financial aid policies. Furthermore, even for those that do (and I suppose a number of them exist), the fact that Yale is, in fact, very generous already has no bearing on the facts that 1) they're not competitively so anymore (and haven't been against Princeton in over half a decade), and 2) they have no good reason not to be so.

    Anthony "Rek" LeCounte
    TD 2011

  • Anonymous

    You don't need to keep saying, "in my opinion." That this is an editorial reflects this.

    Poor styling once again from YDN. Don't worry, though--the Crimson's editing has gone down the drain recently as well.

  • Anonymous

    What fraction of those getting into both Harvard and Yale pick Yale usually?

    Do you think the amount of financial aid makes a big difference?

  • Anonymous

    Over 80% of those admitted to H and Y go to H. Of the 20%, this may include people who choose Y for special reasons less to do with the institutions themselves (say the parents went to Y, for example). The 80% in H's favor is probably due to a combination of better financial aid, higher prestige, and stronger programs in science.

    That said, financial aid is a very important concern for any school. The goals of a financial aid program should not be to steal compete for cross admits with H and P (though this will undoubtedly happen). We need better financial aid to simply attract the best students (regardless of whether they got into H or P), and in doing so, we increase class mobility within society. H will attract even more of the best students now, with the resources to tap into groups of people who they couldn't reach before.

    A post above said that the value of a yale education is worth the full cost of tuition. I fully agree, but access to this education is another issue completely. Anyone who doesn't understand this doesn't know what it means to be on financial aid, the burden our parents feel to send us here, and the decision making process that goes through students' minds in choosing where to end (and yes, a few thousand dollars do matter!). Any institution with the aim of attracting the best students needs to 1) reduce this burden on those bearing it, and 2) pave the way for students without the capacity to even carry this burden to begin with.

    The battle between HP and Y is not one of the cross-admits. It's really just a battle of centuries. Unfortunately for us Y kids, it seems Yale's stuck in 1950.

  • Anonymous

    Is there any link documenting the cross admit numbers?

    Is there any way of knowing what the factors influencing choices may have been, ie, better financial aid?

  • Anonymous

    Very well said, Rek!!

  • Anonymous

    >Since when are Yale and Harvard the centers of the universe?

    Since, like, about two seconds after the Big Bang.

    >There are hundreds of good schools out there and most have some financial aid available…

    And there are lots of planets with some chemicals in their atmospheres… but that don't make 'em worth living on!

  • Anonymous

    So Harvard is Mars, and Yale is Venus?

  • Anonymous

    It looks to me like Harvard's new financial aid benefits for the upper middle class are targeting the demographics of Yale's SCEA applicant pool. Yale will have to respond if it wants to sign up a lot of these people early rather than let them wait to see how much money Harvard (and, no doubt, Princeton) will offer.

  • Anonymous

    How about this line of thinking

    … those people who must pay student loans, or have their families make special sacrifices to afford their education might be more driven, and try harder to get the most out of their time at Yale.

    in effect creating a better class.

    intelligence only gets you so far, its drive and ambition that truly make people successful.

  • Anonymous

    Good idea: reduce cash grants and increase loans to make Yalies try harder!

  • Anonymous

    Its kind of exciting waiting for the "major announcement" isn't it?

    Sort of like in "A Christmas Story" when they opened the big box with the "major award" inside!

  • Anonymous

    Oh i don't know..Yale can dip it's toe in the waters of screw the poor and middle class and meter public sentiment.What the Hell can ya do about it, it's Yale ,it's Elite, it's Blue Blood and Ritzy.
    even if you do get lucky punk the Gestapo of the Bd. will stalk you down and block you out wherever thee may fare

  • Anonymous

    Honestly Yale is doing a good job with this financial aid yah harvard may be number 1 but i don't want to go to harvard i want to go to yale and i am glad this policy works in my favor because yale is just as prestigious as harvard it's just that harvard is older so it seems like it yale is number one in my book

  • Anonymous

    Having recently gotten into both Harvard and Yale, I find this debate interesting, as I will be paying twice as much to go to Harvard as I would have to go to Yale (and it's still going to cost less than the state school 50ft from my driveway. Point is, both schools provide phenomenal aid.