No one I know was pleased to hear that Yale was raising tuition for next year by 3.9 percent, least of all my parents.
But as the Yale Daily News noted (“Tuition hikes and students on the cusp,” 2/22), these tuition hikes, although unfortunate, are also probably inevitable. The editorial rightly observed that ever-increasing tuition bills place the greatest burden on middle-class families, who “fall just short of the financial aid standards but still struggle to muster the funds necessary to foot the ever larger bill.”
However, rather than suggesting a solution, the editorial merely complains that the administration should not openly use the money of “hard-working families” toward financial aid for “needy students.” Instead of complaining about the University’s accounting, students should be pushing for a progressive financial aid policy that keeps tuition constant for middle- and lower-income students and raises tuition for those who can most afford to pay.
The main problem with the current financial aid system is that it doesn’t distinguish enough between middle-income and upper-income students.
In the current system, a student whose parents make a combined $120,000 a year — about four times Yale’s annual tuition, including room and board — pays roughly the same amount as a student whose parents make $600,000, about twenty times tuition.
While students who fall in the “middle-class” range can technically afford to pay tuition without much help from the University, these students are still burdened by ever-increasing tuition rates. They often take out Stafford or other loans and work summer or even term-time jobs.
Unlike bread, cars, or houses, college is something our society tries to make available to all, regardless of income. That’s why we have subsidized “state schools” and Stafford loans.
Likewise, in a press release about the new financial aid changes, Dean Brodhead called “making Yale affordable to all” one of the University’s “central goals.” By increasing financial aid to lower-income students (a good idea, as far as I’m concerned) while at the same time raising tuition, Yale’s efforts toward this goal leave out middle-income students. The fact of the matter is that some accepted students choose not go to Yale simply because it puts an undue burden on their families. To them, Yale is not “affordable to all,” and unless things change, it will continue to be unaffordable. Despite the controversy it will certainly provoke, the subsidy of middle-income students with money from upper-income students is the best possible solution.
Under the current system, students have the right to choose whether or not to submit financial aid forms giving information about their parents’ income. I propose that all students should have to disclose their parents’ yearly income. The financial aid office could then tailor each student’s tuition bill to a more reasonable estimate of what their parents can afford to pay, rather than lumping all students who don’t qualify for aid into one category. The maximum tuition could be capped — say at $70,000 per year, about twice the current figure — to ensure a reasonable cost for all, and parents with severe objections to disclosing income could simply pay the maximum.
Would wealthy families balk at the increased rates?
Yeah, probably. But I bet they’d still pay them. Regardless of how much a Yale degree costs relative to, say, a BMW, it’s still much more valuable than what most wealthy families are currently paying, particularly since they can afford to pay more.
A more legitimate concern would be that prospective affluent Yalies would simply choose cheaper peer colleges, making Yale less selective. A solution would be simply to phase in the change gradually, making the difference in tuitions less pronounced. Or President Levin could challenge peer schools to make similar changes on a multilateral basis instead of prompting Yale to institute them by itself.
Even if Yale went the road alone, the changes would probably draw middle-income students to Yale more than it would drive away upper-income students. This demographic shift would improve Yale’s geographic diversity, another of the university’s “central goals.” Increased geographic diversity was the reason Yale switched to the Common Application last year. For that reason, and to help out middle-income families, Yale should likewise consider changing to progressive tuition.
Brad Lipton is a freshman in Branford College. He is an editorial assistant for the Yale Daily News.