As a sophomore at Hope College in Michigan, Myra Smith, Yale’s new financial aid director, didn’t know much about aid. She spent her time dancing and studying for her pre-med classes — her dad did all that aid stuff.
But when she learned she would receive less financial aid than she had her freshman year, she was furious.
She called her dad back home in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“You can’t believe what they did,” Smith said to her father, a middle manager at a furniture company.
“Well, we knew that was going to happen,” her father said. Smith’s mother had just gone to work, and her salary was now being figured into the equation.
“Oh, OK. So it wasn’t them doing it to me,” she said. “Now mom’s working, so we know it was the state grant that I lost.”
“We knew you weren’t going to get it the second year,” Smith’s dad said. “We were glad to have it the first year.”
And so began Myra Smith’s consciousness of college tuition and financial aid. Yale’s new aid director laughed at her recollection as she is now unpacking her bags and making plans for her time at Yale. Smith, who began on March 1, will be responsible for overseeing undergraduate and graduate aid programs. She will lead the offices in a time when around the Ivy League, discussion is swirling about the role of the school, student and parent in financing higher education.
Since her appointment at the turn of the year, Smith, who previously directed financial aid at Smith College, said she has watched the Ivy aid arena with interest.
Harvard and Princeton universities’ recent financial aid announcements, which awarded more grant money to aid students, did not surprise her, she said.
“It’s a highly competitive environment. And I think college admissions is a highly competitive environment. It’s wonderful with schools with resources like Princeton are willing to spend those resources on financial aid,” Smith said. “I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens this spring.”
But in the midst of all of this action, Smith still hasn’t had the time to finish moving into her office. As soon as her husband can drive from Springfield, Mass., where they live with their 13-year-old son Peter, she plans to have him hang up a quilt she made years ago.
For now her office is a pile of projects to begin. Currently, she is planning a new monitoring system to keep track of questions that families of current and future students ask about financial aid awards this spring. Smith said she is not instituting the system to see if students have concerns that their Yale packages differ from their Harvard and Princeton packages, but that monitoring callers and their questions will show the effects of Harvard and Princeton’s new aid plans.
“Yale makes its decisions separate from Harvard and separate from Princeton,” Smith said. “But the marketplace, of course, is always something that people are aware of.”
And, Smith added, she is not really sure how the changes will affect aid packages and matriculation rates.
“If Princeton says ‘we’re going to take loans out of the packages,’ it doesn’t say that they’re going to be more generous,” Smith said. “On an individual case-by-case basis, they could take the loan out of the package and still not be giving them more money.”
Smith said because she comes from Smith, a small college, individual cases are important to her. Her greatest fear about coming to Yale is that she could lose touch with individual students, she said.
“At my previous job I took appointments, I met with parents — we were a small operation, and we all did it,” she said. “I want to make sure that I structure my work so that I still have some opportunity to do that.”
But Smith will be responsible for much more here than at Smith. At Yale, she will oversee graduate aid as well, making sure the University’s programs comply with federal laws.
Ernst Huff, associate vice president of student financial and administrative services, said he is sure Smith will do well in her new job.
“She came highly recommended for her technical skills, her flexibility and her ability to organize and motivate staff,” Huff said. “In addition, she has a great sense of humor.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20682″ ]