The financial aid improvements implemented by Yale last year served their most important purpose: making the University more affordable to a broader range of the socioeconomic spectrum. But while the expansion of financial aid programs benefited students hailing from low-income families, the recent tuition increase necessitated by the aid boost strains the ability of students from another segment of the population — the middle class — to attend Yale.

Keeping tuition affordable has been one of Yale President Richard Levin’s major goals since his appointment in 1993. He has made great strides toward fulfilling his pledge, cutting term bill increases from 5.9 percent in 1993 to 2.9 percent in each of 1998, 1999 and 2000. This week, however, Levin announced that the term bill will rise 3.9 percent, totaling $35,370 for the 2002-2003 academic year.

On its face, there is nothing wrong with Yale’s decision to raise tuition. It is understood that the increase is needed to compensate for inflation and to fund University projects that benefit all undergraduates, such as residential college renovations and additions to the faculty. But the fact that administrators have said a significant part of the increase is due to the expansion of financial aid is troubling.

The tuition increase hits middle-class families hardest, specifically those who fall just short of the financial aid standards but still struggle to muster the funds necessary to foot the ever larger bill. Such families often make major sacrifices to meet rising costs, but ultimately they can find solace in the knowledge that their higher payments will lead to improvements that, at least indirectly, will touch their son or daughter.

This is where the financial aid component of the increase is problematic. An increase in financial aid for needy students — unlike facility renovations, academic initiatives, expanded college budgets, or other broad improvements to general undergraduate life — does not result in any measurable benefit for the student paying the steeper bill.

In the end, funding for all projects basically comes out of the same, large pot comprising tuition, alumni donations, endowment interest and various other sources, so it really does not matter what the exact source was.

Nevertheless, principles are important when dealing with hard-working families often living at the margins of their income and savings in order to support their sons and daughters. When tuition does rise, as it unfortunately but undoubtedly will, the extra money should exclusively fund programs that enhance the quality of education for all.

The laudable increases in financial aid should be filled by alumni donations — many of which are made expressly for financial aid — and drawn from deep coffers of the endowment, which exists to make possible just such noble improvements.

Some may say this a debate about accounting, and indeed, to an extent it is. But the tuition increase means that next year every family of a Yale student not eligible for financial aid will have to pay an additional $1,340. That should be enough to buy a little peace of mind.