Yale administrators and students and parents from middle- and upper-middle-income families were not the only ones to welcome the University’s much-hyped announcement of increased financial aid earlier this month. Another group, overlooked in the midst of the hoopla, had reason to celebrate, too: the Yale athletic community.
Administrators in Ray Tompkins House and the admissions and financial-aid offices agree that the University’s new financial-aid initiative, announced earlier this month, will allow Yale sports teams to compete for more high-caliber athletes, although they differed in their opinions of how the new policy will affect Yale athletics, especially within the Ivy League.
“The power’s in the hands of coaches now,” Chuck Hughes, president of the admissions consulting firm Road to College, said. “When they’re identifying juniors they’re interested in, they can now get families to at least consider Yale. That really changes the dynamics of things, because now when coaches find athletes they really like, they can really sell them the opportunity to come to their school.”
The number of matriculating athletes for each incoming freshman class will likely remain the same, but coaches, students and administrators all said the new policy — which dramatically reduces the required contribution for families making up to $200,000 a year — will open doors for athletes who may have discounted Yale as an option because of affordability. Many athletes from middle- to upper-middle-class families previously chose to attend Yale at the cost of accepting limited financial aid and giving up generous sports scholarships from other Division I schools.
Because the Ivy League prohibits athletic scholarships, Yale coaches previously had to vie for athletes from the same pool as non-Ivy schools that could offer much more generous financial-aid packages through athletics scholarships. That disadvantage will not disappear entirely. But Fritz Rodriguez, director of admissions and financial aid for the Athletics Department, said the new financial-aid policy will significantly enhance Yale’s ability to pursue and attract athletic recruits.
“There was a very real situation where we couldn’t even go after kids from a certain group, mainly students from upper-middle-income families, because we just couldn’t offer enough financial aid to compete with athletics scholarships from schools like Stanford, Duke and Notre Dame,” he explained. “No one wanted it to come down to just financial aid, but in a lot of cases, it just wasn’t doable for us to go after these kids when we knew they would choose a full ride to another school over coming to Yale for full price and possibly entering serious debt.”
Rodriguez added, “Before, we weren’t even in the same league as scholarship schools in terms of being able to offer competitive packages, but now we’re making a move and getting on the radar screen.”
Athletics Director Tom Beckett said Yale athletics stresses that students’ decision to come to Yale should be based primarily on finding a right fit and that other factors, such as financial aid, should be secondary.
But Beckett, as well as other administrators, coaches and students, agreed that for many students, especially those in the middle- to upper-middle-income range, financial aid often becomes a large, if not determining, factor in deciding which college to choose.
“We offer unparalleled academic and athletic experiences, and we hope our athletes choose Yale because of that,” Beckett said. “But if all else is equal, we can make the decision much easier, because affordability has been mitigated by the new financial-aid initiative.”
Because Yale can now offer more competitive financial aid, the Yale athletics program will have a better chance of attracting what Rodriguez calls “blue-chip” athletes, recruits who are hotly pursued by Division I schools and other Ivies. Those blue-chip stars can reshape a program, enabling coaches to recruit increasingly skilled players in the future by pointing to a program’s past success.
“It only takes one kid in that exceptionally small pool to choose to come to Yale, which will make our athletic program in that sport that much better,” Rodriguez explained. “Over time, students will see that our athletics programs are better and will want to come to Yale because we can now offer the entire package — great academics, great financial aid and a great athletic experience.”
Caesar Storlazzi, director of Student Financial Services, said he thinks the new financial-aid policy will affect the recruitment of athletes in the same way that it will affect all recruitment. While acknowledging that Yale may never be able to compete with true “full-ride” sports scholarships from non-Ivy League schools, he said he thinks Yale can offer potential students a unique academic environment.
“We’ve always been able to compete [with non-Ivy League schools] because we offered an unparalleled education experience, in addition to Ivy League athletics,” Storlazzi wrote in an e-mail. “Now, we will offer all of that, and a wonderfully moderated price tag, making a Yale education more affordable to all.”
But Jennifer Hansen ’08, who rows for the women’s crew team, said the choice between accepting a large sports scholarship from a school outside the Ivy League and deciding to attend a school like Yale at full cost can be a difficult choice for many, especially those from middle-income families. Yale would be much more attractive to a prospective recruit if it could offer financial-aid packages that can compete with what schools outside the Ivy League can offer, she said, and Yale’s new financial-aid initiative will help close the gap between Yale and scholarship schools.
“I think the new financial-aid policy is getting us there in terms of bringing us to par with scholarship schools,” Hansen said. “Getting a big scholarship for athletic talent could still be appealing to some people, and it’s very tempting to take the scholarship.”
Despite what they agreed was the obvious benefit to Yale’s recruitment efforts, administrators, coaches and athletes were split on how the new policy will affect Yale’s standing within the Ivy League.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he is unsure how the new financial-aid policy will play out within the Ivy League, but he expects it will encourage a wider group of athletes to consider applying to the Ancient Eight in general, not just Yale.
“I think that the biggest effect on recruitment will be where some players have been lost to the Ivy League as a whole,” he said. “I think that as a result of a lot of moves within the Ivy League, the league as a whole might see an influx of both some lower-middle-income and middle-income and upper-middle-income athletes for whom there was previously an enormous price increase between the Ivy League and other schools because of athletic scholarships.”
Brian Tompkins, head coach of the men’s soccer team, said Yale and Harvard may have an edge in recruiting because of recent financial-aid changes, but he does not expect the advantage to last long. No school in the Ivy League has held an edge in recruiting for very long, he said, noting that “we’re on the threshold of institutional change across the country.”
Kevin McCarthy, head coach of women’s soccer at Columbia, agreed that the recruiting edge within the Ivy League will most likely be temporary. He echoed the importance of educational experience over cost in schools’ efforts to recruit top athletes.
“There’s been a lot of pressure on most schools with large endowments to continue to restructure, and I expect many of Ivies will move forward in terms of financial-aid initiatives,” he said.