Bronstein, Cersonsky, Crosby and Eidelson: For financial aid reform

This month, 1,940 students will decide whether to accept their offers of admission to Yale. On Monday, many will come for Bulldog Days. They’ll attend lectures by Shelly Kagan, Marvin Chun and David Blight. They’ll eat s’mores in courtyards; braving the chaos of the extracurricular bazaar, they’ll each sign up for 25 student organizations.

By most standards, Yale has done an exceptional job extending these opportunities to students regardless of background. In 2005, our financial aid program eliminated the parental contribution for families earning under $45,000. In 2008, this policy was expanded to the $45,000 to $60,000 income bracket, alongside increased aid to students from middle-class families earning up to $200,000.

Recently, President Levin told the News that the University plans to bolster the part of its endowment devoted to financial aid.

Yet the current status quo was built not only on Yale’s desire to take the lead on progressive reform but also by bottom-up pressure from those whom it has benefited: us. In 2004, as other top universities adopted new financial aid measures, students across campus mobilized to demand that Yale follow suit. Over 1,000 people signed a petition calling for substantial change, and countless others made their voices heard in public forums and speakouts. These efforts attracted the attention of both national media (see, for instance, “Yale protesters seek reform of financial aid policy,” The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2005) and the University. Largely as a result of student activism, Yale eliminated the parental contribution to financial aid for families earning under $45,000.

Once again, it’s time for us to act.

In February, the University announced a $400 increase in the self-help portion of financial aid packages, a decision made without public student input. This 15 percent increase in term-time self-help increases the financial pressure on students who already work hard to finance their own education. As Ryan Nees ’12 noted (“ ‘Self-help’ slams students,” Feb. 25), at the average student wage, these students would have to work an extra hour and 15 minutes each week to account for the hike — in turn limiting their ability to participate most fully in campus life and increasing their likelihood of accumulating substantial debt.

And, already expensive by comparison, if the change goes into effect this fall, Yale’s $3,000 term-time student contribution will far surpass those of both Harvard, $2,500, and Princeton, $2,345.

After years of positive financial aid reform, the University is heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Though powerful institutions like Yale may be emerging from the recession, many students and families are not. Yale should be demanding less, not more, from its neediest students — especially as President Levin and Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi reaffirmed a commitment to affordable education for students of all class backgrounds when the financial crisis began.

Storlazzi recently announced that the Provost’s Office and the Student Financial Services Office are considering reinstating the two-week exclusive hiring period for students receiving financial aid at the beginning of each semester. We endorse this common sense measure to better ensure that those who most need employment are able to find it. However, the University must also address the underlying cause of this overwhelming demand for student jobs: the increasingly undue financial burden students face.

Today, we must stand up to defend the huge strides made only a few short years ago. Let’s let the administration know that its recent self-help hike is not acceptable, and call for the measure to be reversed. In the process, let’s assert a greater role for students in the decisions that impact our lives at Yale and after we graduate.

This process has already begun. Several candidates for Yale College Council made the need for financial aid reform central to their platforms. A petition calling on the administration to reverse the self-help increase and reinstate the two-week preferential hiring period is currently circulating around campus. And next week, we will see the first of what will hopefully be many public forums on these issues.

In 2008, President Levin said, “We want all of our students to make the most of Yale — academically and beyond — without worrying about excessive work hours or debt.” Let’s hold him to that.

Rhiannon Bronstein and James Cersonsky are juniors in Pierson and Timothy Dwight Colleges, respectively. Benjamin Crosby is a freshman in Pierson College. Sarah Eidelson is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. They are members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.

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