Last month, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC) conducted interviews with over 300 undergraduates on the subject of financial aid. We talked to students from highly varied backgrounds, canvassing rooms randomly in all the residential colleges to ask the opinions of students both on financial aid and without monetary help from Yale. I certainly heard a wide range of viewpoints on the issue. Some students with whom I talked indicated that they would prefer a Yale where every student was forced to play a contributory role in his or her education. Others figured that the system as it exists today operates well or that some students received aid unfairly.
Though the students interviewed were not always of the same mind, we at the Undergraduate Organizing Committee have assembled many of the complaints made into a platform that we intend to present to the Student Financial Services office, the Admissions Office, President Levin, Dean Salovey, Provost Hamilton, the Minority Advisory Council and the Yale College Council. The financial aid system here at Yale has improved in recent years, but it is not perfect. We envision a Yale that will promote equality of access, experience and opportunity for all its students and, to that end, we have generated solutions that may solve some of the University’s problems.
First, we seek to increase the economic diversity of Yale’s student body. There is no doubt that our classmates have, on average, more affluent upbringings than do typical Americans. This is a common characteristic of the nation’s top centers of higher education, and though we know that it will never be solved entirely, several universities have stepped in the right direction in efforts to increase the number of enrolled students from less prosperous backgrounds.
Harvard, for instance, has pledged to increase recruitment in rural and low-income areas that currently are the hometowns of few Ivy League graduates. Our rival to the north has also made it clear that it will expect no family contributions from students whose families have annual incomes of $40,000 or less. We ask Yale to make similar pledges. By increasing recruitment and eliminating family contributions for the poorest applicants, Yale can maintain its high standards while boosting its number of low-income students.
Second, we seek to decrease the financial burdens on Yale students. Currently, students on financial aid are expected to contribute $4,200 of self-help (outside of the family contribution) each year. Because students cannot meet this through work, some are forced to take out loans. This “student contribution” portion is too high, and should be halved so that it can be met by a student working for 10 hours a week at Yale without loans.
Similarly, we ask Yale to reform the summer contribution requirement system (currently $1,650 for freshmen and $2,150 for upperclassmen) in order to make it simpler for students to intern at non-profit agencies or to work at summer jobs that pay less than is needed to fulfill the requirement. Those on financial aid should not be forced to compromise any of the options offered to them as Yale students. Our University should make all possible efforts to level the playing field between those on aid and those fortunate enough not to need it.
For international students, we propose an increase in the number of paid trips home from once in four years to one trip home each year. It is unreasonable to expect foreign students to see their families only once in their four-year career at Yale.
Finally, we encourage the financial aid office here to increase its transparency and accountability. Students both on and off financial aid know little about the system, and so we propose a mandatory information session on aid and employment issues for freshmen. We also ask the office to publish more data on the economic make-up of the Yale student body. If our University is, in fact, a model for other universities on aid issues, Yale should be willing to disclose the positive outcomes of its efforts.
We do not believe that our platform on improved financial aid here at Yale is unreasonable. Other schools have made changes to their policies that mirror those that we suggest. However, we recognize that this platform represents a starting point for a discussion on aid issues here, and we will continue to push for improvements for all Yale students on economic matters.
Yonah Freemark is a freshman in Saybrook College.