For the past 25 years, the average number of freshmen in each Yale class from New Haven could be counted on two hands. Elm City residents currently comprise less than 1 percent of Yale College’s student population. And only a portion of those students attended one of the city’s public schools.
While the Yale admissions office offers year-round tours and interviews, it does not have exclusive recruiting initiatives to target students from New Haven public schools.
Six guidance counselors from New Haven public schools said in interviews that Yale should pro-actively reach out to local public school students. But Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said Yale’s existing programs — such as information sessions held at local schools upon request and an annual conference to which public school students are invited — demonstrate the extent to which his office already offers support.
“With Yale being so accessible and so close to these schools, we feel that the hospitality that we afford and the outreach that we do [is] substantial,” Brenzel said in an interview.
Still, none of these programs are unique to New Haven public schools. Local guidance counselors said their time is too scarce to help every rising senior who wants to apply to the University, and they are not alone in thinking that Yale should be more aggressive in its assistance.
“You’ve got to help [New Haven public school] kids once they’re in high school,” said Pedro Noguera, a professor at New York University and one of the nation’s leading scholars on urban education. “Affluent kids, they’ve got tutors, they’ve got huge advantages — you have to try to level the playing field to give less-affluent kids the opportunity.”
It is about fostering good will with the community, Noguera said, and about making Yale a resource for New Haven.
COMING TO NEW HAVEN
Cynthia Ortiz serves as a guidance counselor at New Haven Academy, a local public high school serving high-achieving low-income students. Until she was contacted by the News, she had never heard of Yale’s new financial aid policy.
“I’ve heard it for Harvard. I hadn’t heard that Yale gave it to a low income family,” she said when reached by phone two weeks ago. “I never knew that until now.”
Of a half-dozen guidance counselors from New Haven public schools interviewed by the News, three — all of whom were from magnet or specialized schools — had not heard of Yale’s financial aid reforms.
While some counselors may not have exact knowledge of Yale’s new financial aid policies, Brenzel said he would be “very surprised” if a counselor did not know Yale meets all students’ demonstrated financial need, as it has done for more than four decades.
“The changes in the incremental amounts in Yale’s financial aid is going to be a very low item in their list of priorities as a counselor,” he said.
Claudia Merson, director of Public School Partnership for the office of New Haven and State Affairs, said it was “astounding” that several local counselors — including one from New Haven Academy — were unaware of Yale’s new financial aid policy.
Ortiz said high school students can be intimidated by Yale and need outreach from the school to feel comfortable applying.
For these reasons, Yale needs to inform local students of its financial aid policies and erase perceptions that the school is inaccessible or impossibly selective, said Kenneth Wong, chair of the Education Department and director of the Urban Education Policy Department at Brown University.
“Affordability is a big concern,” Wong said. “If Yale is already committed to helping low-income families, all these counselors need to be fully aware of that.”
Merson said Yale’s approach has been to educate local students and parents about the college application process in general, rather than focus exclusively on Yale.
Ortiz said Yale has not yet sent an admissions officer to her school, which was founded three years ago. The same holds true for the Sound School, a local magnet school with an annual enrollment of about 300 that specializes in math and sciences through the study of marine life and aquaculture.
Although the Sound School has several applicants to Yale each year, guidance counselor Gloria Haney said, she cannot recall a visit from a Yale admissions staff member in her 10 years working at the school.
In response, Brenzel said Yale would send an admissions officer to host an information session if the school requested one.
There is established precedent for universities to actively recruit students from their local areas. Through its “Baltimore Scholars” program, Johns Hopkins offers full scholarships to about 20 public school students from the city of Baltimore each year. There are 76 Baltimore public school graduates currently studying at Johns Hopkins as Baltimore Scholars, Associate Dean of Admissions Jameel Freeman said. All public school students admitted to Johns Hopkins from the Baltimore public schools who meet simple eligibility criteria automatically become Batimore Scholars.
The program began in 2005, after several years of low application rates from local public schools, Freeman said. In 2005, Johns Hopkins launched the program, contacting local high school counselors and principals about the program. That year, Johns Hopkins saw 121 applications from Baltimore public schools — only three years earlier, that number had been 25. The number has held steady around 130 since then, Freeman said.
“It’s our job in admissions to make sure that students know about the opportunities at Johns Hopkins and that we break down the mystique around the school,” he said. “It’s probably the same with Yale and New Haven — probably more so. Kids see the admit rate — 8 or 9 percent — and they’re probably not going to come to campus.”
Freeman says the admissions office works as a “catalyst,” initiating contact with public schools and then working with the schools to arrange information sessions and on campus visits, although he admitted that Johns Hopkins has not necessarily formed close ties with every local public high school and counselor. And Baltimore public school students have no special advantage in the Johns Hopkins admissions process.
COMING TO YALE
But while only some college counselors said they still need Yale to visit their schools, all those interviewed said they thought Yale should take a more proactive role in bringing students to their campuses.
“We’re so close, we don’t schedule any tours to go to visit Yale,” said Sandra Puchi, a guidance counselor at the Cooperative Arts High School in New Haven. “It would be great if something could be organized by the admissions office to make us feel welcome.”
But because Yale is so close and already offers outreach through the “Multicultural Open House” and information sessions, Brenzel said inviting individual school groups to campus is not a consideration.
“The campus is so accessible to New Haven students, it isn’t something that would have occurred to us given how easy it is for a student to explore Yale at any length they desire,” Brenzel said.
The disconnect between Yale and New Haven public school counselors is clear: Asked whether Yale facilitates visits for New Haven public school students, Merson said, “In the course of compulsory education, there is not a single one of the 23,000 students [in New Haven] that has not been on the Yale’s campus.”
Not true, Ortiz said.
“People right around the neighborhood around Yale never set foot on campus because they may perceive Yale as being of limited access,” she said.
Ortiz said she had been attempting to contact the admissions office since January to schedule a tour, but after three weeks of e-mailing back and forth with Yale, she gave up, frustrated.
“Considering the fact that we come from these low-income schools, we don’t have the manpower to do all the follow up,” she said.
Brenzel said he felt badly for this mix-up, noting that the office hosts over 30,000 visitors per year and works to accommodate all groups that request visits.
In many ways, Yale provides support programs for the New Haven public schools, not so much through the efforts of the institution, but rather thanks to the work of dedicated undergraduate and graduate students. Most guidance counselors from local schools gushed with praise for the efforts of Yale students in their schools.
Merson said Yale makes a special effort to inform local college counselors and pairs a group of about 20 undergraduates with New Haven public schools through a special internship program run by Dwight Hall. Through this program, she said, Yale students are able to “help the school make good use of Yale resources.”
Katherine Monohan, a guidance counselor at Wilbur Cross, said Yale students frequently work with her students for tutoring and special-needs programs.
“The Yale students have been a good example for our younger students, and they’ve given them encouragement and academic goals,” she said.
Puchi also pointed to a group of Yale Law School students who come to Co-op to help juniors and seniors with their college applications and essays.
And last year, the Yale College Council kicked off Eli Days, a program that brings in students pre-selected by their guidance counselors from three area public schools to visit Yale for a day. The admissions office provides financial support and assists with programming for Eli Days, although the initiative itself was spearheaded by YCC.
Some disagree on whether Yale does enough for local public school applicants, but Brenzel said Yale indisputably offers them help in the admissions process.
In a policy mirroring those at other institutions such as Harvard, an applicant’s status as a local resident is viewed favorably, Brenzel said.
He said students from New Haven public schools are admitted at a higher rate than the national average, a trend that he expects to continue.
But so are students from local private schools, such as the Hopkins School, which saw an acceptance rate to Yale better than one in three for the class of 2012, according to Hopkins’ Director of College Counseling Susan Paton.
Brenzel pointed out that many students at local private schools are from low-income backgrounds or are members of underrepresented minorities.
But Dean Chen, a graduate of local Wilbur Cross high school and current Duke University freshman, said he finds the advantages for Hopkins students unjust.
“I think it’s an unfair process in that Hopkins already has a lot of advantages over public schools like Wilbur Cross,” said Chen, who was rejected from Yale. “Usually their counselors understand Yale better, and their parents are more likely to be closely tied with Yale.”
But Wilbur Cross graduate Jules Bolton ’09 sees things differently. While Hopkins is bursting with students interested in Yale and qualified to attend, relatively few students from New Haven public schools are ready for the academic challenge of a school like Yale, he said.
“I think the New Haven public school kids get an advantage just because there are so few who could matriculate at Yale,” Bolton said.
In the fall of 1933, 838 freshmen stepped onto Yale’s campus as freshmen — 93 of those New Haven residents. Seventy-five years later, the number has fallen from more than one in 10 to less than one in 100. In September, only a handful of Yale’s newest undergraduates will carry diplomas from New Haven high schools — since 2001, that total has never risen higher than 14.
It is a mark of Yale’s history — and a question for Yale’s future: The University’s helping hand can span the globe, but will it pause to reach down the street?