Nees: ‘Self-help’ slams students

This week, when the University announced a 4.8 percent increase in tuition and room and board for the 2010-11 academic year, President Levin sought to be reassuring. Despite a financial crisis, he said, Yale would continue to be among the least expensive Ivy League universities. Parents of students on financial aid wouldn’t experience any term bill increase at all. And the hike would be accompanied by a 10 percent increase in financial aid expenditures, to boot.

But more stealthily hidden in his announcement was a much more insidious change: a 15 percent increase in the “self-help” requirement of students on financial aid — from $2,600 this year to $3,000 next.

Yale’s self-help requirement is rooted in an American ethic of hard work. The policy, that all students “receiving financial aid are expected to contribute to their education,” as the University said in a statement, means that students are confronted with two ways to meet the obligation. They can choose either to emerge at graduation more than $10,000 in debt, or work a campus job, earning on average $12.50 an hour. To accumulate $3,000 in a year at that rate, one would need to work 240 hours, or about 10 hours each week during the entirety of the academic year.

To be sure, there are few students who would not gladly work in exchange for the education they receive. For the more than 50 percent of Yale College students who receive some form of financial aid, there is no expectation of a handout. But in practice, only a certain type of Yale student need be burdened with satisfying these paternal expectations: the poorest.

Working students have the same obligations as all Yalies, attending class for perhaps 10 hours a week and studying for 20. If this week’s decision has sent no other message, it’s been that for the most needy, work has become as equally important as class time. The minimum obligations working students have are a third greater than the other half of Yale’s students, and it puts them at a competitive disadvantage in actively immersing themselves in extracurricular Yale.

The $400 increase (six times the rate of inflation) may seem trivial to many Yale students and apparently seemed that way to Yale’s administrators. For students fulfilling a self-help requirement, however, it means working an hour and 15 minutes more each week.

Meanwhile, much like the federal government’s cap on Social Security payroll taxes, the highest earning of Yale’s families continue to benefit from a flat-rate fee system. Though financial aid operates on a sliding scale according to need, there is no such sliding payment obligation for families according to their ability to pay. In this sense, the problem with Yale’s tuition isn’t that it’s too high. It’s that it’s too low. This week’s decision compounds the regressive system.

When the University announced a 3.5 percent term bill increase in 2001, President Levin boasted that “no students receiving financial aid from Yale will have to pay any increase next year if their financial circumstances remain the same.” Levin can’t say the same this year, and sure enough, he very carefully didn’t. “Parents of students receiving financial aid will not experience any increase in the amount they contribute to support their children’s education,” he said Tuesday.

Though the university calls the fee a “self-help” contribution, in reality, there’s nothing preventing Yale parents from paying. Only for some students is “self-help” actually self-help. Hit hardest now are students whose parents were never paying anything at all, and can’t afford to contribute to the costs that routinely arise with college life. They’ve never able to contribute to costs for textbooks or travel. They’ve never been able to contribute to their children’s “self-help.” These are students who have long since become accustomed to paying these costs themselves, and thanks to Yale, will do so next year more still.

Yale officials shrugged off the increase by pointing to opportunities for on-campus work, despite how difficult such jobs have become to obtain, much less reconcile with class schedules at increasingly long hours. In exchange for the paltry $1.1 million in additional revenue Yale will yield from the increase, working students — as busy and overburdened as other Yalies — will be forced to work more each week. It’s a burden that more than half of Yale students will never have to bear in exchange for the privilege of attending this university.

If only we were all so privileged.

Ryan Nees is a sophomore in Trumbull College.


  • Abhinav Nayar

    I had posted a similar opinion elsewhere. I am a prospective student and I completely agree with your stand. The fact that I’d have to put in several hours of work each week while could be making fuller use of my time at Yale is something students might now have to consider when they compare offers from different colleges.

  • Yale 2011

    Wow. I feel like you’re going to get slammed for this (cue the old angry alums in three, two, one …), but right on, dude. Thank you for so eloquently stating what is such an important concern in so many of our lives.

  • Intent?

    The Yale self help requirements for economically disadvantaged students needs to be reformulated as it is heavily weighed with traditional class bias. Sadly, it truly confounds the intent of donors from all walks of life who have provided financial contributions to Yale over the years for the purpose of educating needy Yale students. Why? At a place and time when opportunities for low cost or free cultural exposures abound as part of undergraduate life, possibly not repeated subsequently (for example, who wouldn’t have wanted the chance to see Meryl Streep’s performances at the Rep!)undergraduate students unwillingly committed to employment under the self-help system are constrained. Certainly they do count the hours restricting them from full participation in so many campus learning-related activities.

  • The Contrarian

    I’m not so old, but my anger usually more than makes up for it. This time, though, I’m with the youngsters. The poorest have beaten the greatest odds. They’re not the group unacquainted with work or a work-ethic.

    I’m also one who thinks that if, say, Bill Gates gets a speeding ticket, the fine should be $100 million.

  • Former student worker

    I said it when I was an undergrad and I’ll say it again: working 10 hours a week is NOT A BIG DEAL.

    I had a work study job all four years at Yale. During many semesters, I also had paid internships. I still found the time to join numerous clubs on campus as well as well as be involved in New Haven and have a social life.

    I can’t remember every having a club meeting between the hours of 9AM and 5PM Monday -Friday and not a single Yalie is in classes 40 hours per week. I will concede that it could be difficult for varsity athletes but, overall, Yale kids love to complain that they don’t have enough time when, honestly, we really do.

  • 2012

    To Former student worker:

    Were you an American Studies, Political Science, or Religious studies major? Try majoring in Mechanical, Electrical, or Chemical engineering, and we’ll see how much free time you have then.

  • @former student worker

    One of my biggest concerns with the student contribution was that I felt I would miss out on extracurriculars. And freshman year, guess what, I did. And guess what, I didn’t only miss out on extracurriculars but my grades suffered as well. Having something like “I need to make money in order to be here next semester” is not a great thing to have in the back of your head all the time. This is a penetrating concern that effects performance on all accounts. It pervades your life, this constant, biting obligation–amongst other problems of a socio-economic, racial nature of belonging or not-belonging that we the poorest Yalies have to deal with. Sure each and everyone of us has problems, but straddling two completely different social spheres, Yale, for instance, where I’m constantly worrying about making money, and Home, for instance, where I’m constantly worrying about pressure to succeed as the first college student in my immigrant family, as well as the fact that I’m gay, isn’t an ideal situation–and what’s more isn’t something that the policy makers think about when their concern is the bottom line. More consideration would be nice, but in this hyper-capitalist society I can’t really blame them. And maybe I’d have time to talk about all of my issues with Walden if I no longer had a job.

    Oh, wait, I don’t have a job. That’s strange because I applied to ELEVEN, was qualified for all of them, was over-qualified for three of them, and still couldn’t get one. Maybe if the other jobs didn’t overlap so much with my classtime (maybe I should take classes only before 9AM and after 5PM?), I’d have a job. I think a surprising many of us are in this same impossible-to-get-a-job boat and taking it pretty well considering how most of these employers never reply to your application with even so much as a no.

    I guess I’ll go back to scheduling more psych studies… let’s see how many I can qualify for….

    I’m not one to complain, but maybe it’s about time that this struggling, silent demographic had some airtime?

  • Other Options

    There are other options for self help aside from working though – self help can be covered by scholarships, whereas parent contribution cannot. As a financial aid student, I’d significantly prefer to see my student contribution, which I can make up completely in scholarships, go up, than my parental contribution, which scholarships can’t support. (which I think is unfortunate – if I can get someone to pay Yale the money, who cares if its from my parents or a scholarship organization)

  • Alex

    #5 and #6, it seems like you both have good intentions (actually, it seems like everyone who commented here had good intentions … which is so great!), but I wanted to push back a little bit on each of your arguments.

    #5, I have a work study job too, and I love it. But I have a lot of friends who are not so lucky. For example, they have a job that really sucks. Or they have to work 10 hours (if they’re making $12.50, which is actually higher than the entry-level rate for student jobs) to pay Yale and then another 5 to have spending money – the writer is right that the people who will really hit by this are the ones whose parents can’t contribute anything. Or they are having a very hard time finding a job because so many students need them and Yale is eliminating so many positions … which means someone automatically has to take out loans in order to pay Yale the “self-help” portion. Also, different people take different amounts of time to do stuff. It’s great that you were able to have the experience you wanted; not everyone is so lucky, and it seems like the central issue is expanding choice.

    #6, I hear you that engineering is tough, but please please have some respect for what the rest of us spend time studying. Amstud, Political Science, and Religious Studies (as well as the whole host of majors that get stereotyped as easy … this is Yale, after all, there’s hard thinking to be done wherever you turn) are rigorous too!

  • Understatement

    Class for 10 hours a week and study for 20? That sounds like a breeze–for me it’s usually class for 15 hours a week (last semester it was 20) and study for at least 40. Many Yale students (especially science majors) already devote WAY more time than expected for a full-time job to their studies alone, and having to work a part-time job in addition puts them at a competitive disadvantage not only for participation in extracurricular activities, but more importantly, for getting good grades. Thank god I had some outside scholarship money to reduce the burden a little–I don’t know what I would’ve done without it.

  • grow up

    Students at Yale today have no idea how much more generous aid is today that it was even 10 years ago. When I started college 30 years ago, I was expected to come up with $5000 on my own, even though the Yale acknowledged that my parents had almost no money. That’s about $19,000 today, corrected for inflation. So yes, $400 is more money. But Yale still pays the vast majority of your education’s cost, and you still have it a lot better than most generations who went to Yale. So just grow up.

  • Ryan Nees

    @10: I completely agree, but thought it would be best to err on the side of understatement for this purpose.

    @8: You’re right, but I’d rather change the policy regarding scholarship applicability to the parental contribution than I would increase the student contribution. It’s a strange situation, because so many scholarships Yalies win are worth more than $3,000/year, and when one exceeds that value, Yale refuses to defray the parental contribution, opting instead to reduce the Yale scholarship by the amount of the “displacement.” Granted Yale is bound by a federal rule requiring it not to award more in scholarship than a student’s “need,” but this seems like shaky justification at best given that different schools permissibly calculate demonstrated need to be very different figures, even when they all are meeting “100%.” But the message that’s ultimately sent is pretty clear: don’t bother winning outside scholarships at all if you’re on any form of financial aid, because after you surpass $3,000, the university simply keeps it. That surely can’t be what scholarship foundations ever intended — to only practically serve the wealthiest students — and it’s regrettable that so many of these resources are in the end going to line Yale’s pockets rather than serve the students they were meant to.

  • Anonymous

    This is a good point, but I take issue with the idea that richer parents should be paying MORE than $50,000 a year for us to go here. Parents paying full tuition are already paying more than this education is worth. I know you want to equate this with graduated income tax, but Yale in not the government and has no entitlement to more money.
    I didn’t know about the fact that scholarships can’t count toward tuition. That’s really strange.

  • Crazy student worker

    I am a student worker, and self-proclaimed hustla (haha, what 19 hr limit?), yet, I am mixed.

    1) I have a conviction that most college students work part-time, some even full-time and continue their studies. Sure, Yale courses are more difficult, but resilience speaks volumes about someone’s character.

    2) The move to increase the self-help will hurt the poorest students at Yale. Its only a slightly greater pain for the middle class who have parents that can actually help somewhat. But for poorer students on what Yale claims to be FULL financial aid, they will likely not have parent support. Full financial aid DOES NOT eliminate the self-help portion, an important feature that needs to be noted. And Yale, if you dare touch these students merit outside scholarship, then shame on you

    3) I kind of agree with “Grow up”. As egalitarian and PC we think our campus is, we need to realize that it was developed with and for the rich and American elite in mind. Back in the day, Yale was not for poor people, women or minorities. Yale, and indeed our society, has come a long way. The financial aid we get today is by far the most generous in the world. Try going to Oxford or Cambridge, see if the Brits want to give you money there. We are blessed by the donations of the rich, let’s be grateful for that guys.

    4) Need to work? Want to study? Start searching for the most relaxed and carefree jobs. You can make money and resume pad, like working for the Yale Alumni Fund or for a lab. Or you can find jobs where you can do HW and work. Communicate with people; find them, they exist, and minimum wage here is $11.50 and goes up to about $13.30.

  • Entitlement?

    I’m a financial aid student. And I frankly don’t buy this argument — or many of those expressed on these message boards. Are we really SO entitled that we expect this incredible opportunity and all its incredible resources, without giving anything back if we can’t afford it? That is rather presumptuous. The job opportunities at Yale are very, very good — and what the university asks for is hardly anything in exchange for what it is giving us.

  • Crazy student worker

    I actually want to make a correction on point 2). I just realized that financial aid covers not simply the tuition and room/board expense, but also personal expense. So students with FULL financial aid would get the full expense covered. So I believe that they do not need to pay self-help themselves. I guess middle class families take the hit then. But honestly, you can pay $3,000 in a semester. Maybe limit alcohol, Jcrew, ABP, Gheav, A1 expenditures =)

  • Understatement

    #16: Students on full financial aid still have to pay the self-help, so everyone is responsible for coming up with at least $3000. The only way to have absolutely everything covered is to have outside scholarships replace the self-help.

  • in defense of #6

    I think #6 was just saying that Chem E, for example, has something like 28 credits that must be fulfilled, plus many lab requirements (not just for the classes in Chem E, but also required in order to move on to grad school, etc.)

  • @Grow up

    While I feel your pain for having to contribute so much to your Yale education, your degree and your degree alone opened many more doors than it does now. Now, employers expect you to be part of several clubs, and to have done really interesting internships during the summer (often unpaid). When students are forced to take paid jobs during the summer, they are already one step behind others. Further, when you are forced to work a job, many student organizations are out of the picture. So, while you may be right that you were forced to contribute much more to your education, your education also gave back much more.

  • Realist in a world of Fantasy

    Or…you could do what other people do…and get a job after you graduate and pay for it. Stop whining.