What if I told you that the student income contribution didn’t exist?
Let me explain.
Opposition to the SIC is almost universal among the student body. Its elimination has been the subject of countless op-eds, multiple rallies and endless YCC agendas. Two years ago, Yale responded to student protests by slightly lowering the costs of the “student effort” payment, but that still left the total average cost for students across four years at a staggering $22,300. Students were not impressed.
But why, when students shout “eliminate the SIC” on a daily basis, do administrators only return a blank stare? In the cloud of student fury and administrative bureaucracy, the underlying cause of the clash — the crucial figure of $22,300 — remains misunderstood. While I agree that students on aid should not be at an unfair disadvantage, I believe that the current administrative language surrounding the issue is incredibly deceptive. Considered carefully, the contribution owed by students is actually very little. Yale, in its lack of clarity, seems to be propagating a dangerous myth.
Let’s break it down: $22,300 is calculated from a chart provided on Yale’s financial aid website. The chart is supposed to explain the composition of the student effort payment. $12,900 comes from “student employment” — funds paid directly to students for work at the University. While the University website incoherently uses the phrase “met by” to describe students’ acquisition of the funds, working to make this amount of money is not mandatory.
In fact, this aspect of financial aid could be considered very positive for low-income students — it certainly was for me. Yale actually means that students have a guaranteed opportunity to work up to nineteen hours a week, if they choose to do so. Yale’s work-study salary cap comes from a high estimate for travel cost and miscellaneous spending. Unless you buy the most expensive round-trip tickets home and spend hundreds eating out and shopping, it’s difficult to come even close to Yale’s estimate. As a student on full financial aid flying home to a relatively expensive airport, I have found approximately six to 10 hours of work per week more than sufficient to meet costs.
That leaves us with $9,600, calculated from four years of the student summer income contribution — still a lot of money for most students to pay on their own. But what is that money actually being used for? “Direct costs” to Yale include an aggregate of tuition, room and board, and a legally obligatory charge for the Yale health plan. The income contribution is a small portion of that pool.
By thinking creatively, the student contribution can be mostly converted into pure rhetoric. For example, Yale’s insurance is currently priced at $1,166 per term, or $9,328 across four years. Students already on another provider’s health insurance can easily waive this cost; subtracted from the original amount, this leaves us with $272. A further $500 comes from the optional student activities fee which can also be waived. That puts the total in the negative. As a student on full aid, my remaining bill usually amounts to a couple hundred dollars per semester to cover miscellaneous fees not reported in tuition or room and board — remarkably less than Yale’s blunt presentation would initially suggest.
But let’s say you’ve already done these things. If you are a student on partial financial aid a student income figure will still show up as a flat $2,600 on your bill. The fortunate reality of the number is that it actually reflects a sliding scale of financial aid, considered in conjunction with the parent contribution. Yale essentially repackages a portion of parental costs into a small student payment in order to reduce the parents’ bill, while attempting to keep the student engaged in the financial aid process.
The SIC, shockingly, doesn’t actually reflect any extra costs, but instead demonstrates a philosophical statement by the University — nonetheless, one that many argue is tone deaf.
“Eliminate the student income contribution” is therefore only a symbol for financial problems at Yale — not, by any means, a solution for truly making the University fairer for everyone. If Yale were to remove the student effort entirely, the $2,600 cost would only be added to parents’ bills. And low-income students might lose the guaranteed chance to keep a steady job.
Clearly, the rhetoric presented by Yale is misleading. Yale must clarify the required expectations of students and the exact source of each payment being asked of families. Students, in turn, should advocate specific reforms such as lower tuition across the board, more flexibility in aid for middle-income students, the implementation of travel grants or book stipends, the diversification of student job offerings, and a restructuring of weekly work hour requirements.
As a QuestBridge student, financial security is a daily worry for me. I understand how frightening it can be to see a bill and not understand where it comes from or how you might pay for it. But we can’t let our anxieties affect our ability to think critically and argue forcefully for change.
Clarity about the student effort payment is absolutely necessary to close the gap between students’ concerns and the administration’s perceptions of those concerns.
Let’s eliminate the myth.
Leland Stange is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on alternate Fridays, Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .