The glossy pages of Yale admissions brochures devote significant space to the University’s residential college system, featuring 12 richly furnished manors to house the unbounded opportunities of college life. Those brochures fail to mention, however, that all Yale residential colleges were not created equal.
As most students learn soon after arriving at Yale, the 12 colleges differ in the amount of financial resources at their disposal, in large part due to donations from private individuals and unequal gifts of prize monies. It is common knowledge that Jonathan Edwards College is the richest of the colleges, while Trumbull and Ezra Stiles colleges have the fewest resources. Disparities between college endowments result in perceived variance of opportunities available to students in each of the colleges, although initiatives in recent years by University administrators have tried to equalize the fund flowing to the college.
“Students in different colleges really do have different access to resources, and that’s something that really should be addressed,” Yale College Council President Andrew Cedar ’06 said. “We’re not getting the same experience.”
The Council of Masters endeavored to mute these inequalities in 2002 when it reallocated the general appropriations funds that the provost’s office supplies to the colleges. Whereas the prior arrangement distributed an equal amount to each college, the revised formula allocates funds based on the preexisting resources each college already has from its own private endowments, Calhoun College Master and former Chair of the Council of Masters William Sledge said. Sledge presided over the Council from 2001 to 2004 and enacted the changes under his tenure in collaboration with the other masters, he said.
“We basically looked at the way finances worked and felt that it wasn’t as fair as it could be for students,” Sledge said.
A residential college endowment can be broken down into a number of components. Funds are intended to bring guests to the college, fulfill the terms of prizes or awards — frequently given to the college in someone’s memory — and to help subsidize summer travel and research. The remainder of money falls under the master’s discretion, Sledge said. A portion of the discretionary funds — mostly from private donors — is earmarked for specific programs in the college such as promoting music in Pierson College, or the arts in Silliman College, he said. The Council of Masters decided not to equalize the funds for the guests, prizes and summer travel fellowships, but did decide to equalize discretionary funds, Sledge said.
Despite efforts by the Provost’s Office and the Council of Masters, which provide for a “more progressive system,” a discernible inequality persists, Cedar said.
Though college endowments were not the primary impetus for the proposed student activities fee, Cedar said, he hopes a by-product of the fee will be to build a community within Yale so that students feel less reliant on their individual residential colleges’ resources.
Ezra Stiles student Marc Appel ’08 said he thinks the endowment issue speaks to a more fundamental issue about the college system — competition.
“I think the college system is dependent on competition and some colleges being better than others. They do what they can do with what they have,” he said
Some residential colleges do have more substantial endowments than others, but this phenomenon can be explained historically, Silliman College Master and current Chair of the Council of Masters Judith Krauss said in an e-mail.
“The explanation for why some colleges have more endowment monies than others is really a matter of history,” Krauss said. “Some colleges are older than others, and in the early years some colleges may well have housed students who were more well-off than others which, in the fullness of time, resulted in more substantial endowments.”
Silliman student Dan Fichter ’06 said although he was unaware of the relative endowment ranking of his college, he thinks that how a college chooses to use its money matters more than how much money it has.
“It’s probably not the size, but how you use it,” Fichter said. “I think Master Krauss makes the most out of a budget that maybe isn’t as large as other colleges.”
Current funding of the colleges is a function of the provost’s Office, with general funds appropriations falling under two categories: Student Activity Funds and Masters Funds. Krauss said in an e-mail that the Student Activity funds are dispensed on a per-capita basis, but the Masters Fund “levels the playing field” by basing itself on the particular resources of the colleges. The Activity fund amounts to approximately $10,000 per college, Sledge said.
Colleges with larger private funds receive less in the way of Masters Funds allocations than colleges with fewer resources. Jonathan Edwards College, the college with the most resources, albeit predominantly in restricted endowments, receives the minimum amount of $5,000 from the Council of Masters, Jonathan Edwards Master Gary Haller said. The masters interviewed declined to name the upper limit of the Masters Funds.
“The colleges that had the least endowments, their general appropriations increased,” Haller said. “Those that had a lot decreased. No college went to zero.”
Restricted endowments are intended primarily for prizes and fellowships within a specified college, Sledge said. But the Robert C. Bates Summer Traveling Fellowships, made possible by the resources of the former Jonathan Edwards fellow they were named after, has been extended to all students regardless of residential college affiliation, Haller said. The master and fellows committee of Jonathan Edwards decided in 1963 to open the fellowship to other residential colleges, he said. The main funds for the eight Yale University Summer Traveling Fellowships, he said, stem from the same donation.
Programs like the Bates Fellowships are indicative of what Lloyd Suttle, deputy provost for undergraduate and graduate programs, said was an effort by colleges to share resources with other colleges.
“Even though some funds are located in and controlled by a particular college, they don’t necessarily benefit just the students in that college,” Suttle said.
Another source of revenue for the colleges is the Parents Fund, given by donors to a particular college. Whereas money from the restricted endowment is directed to specific funds and awards, the Parents Fund is more discretionary. Some colleges receive more Parents Fund allocations than others due to particular donations from year to year, Krauss said, and for this reason the Council decided not to take these funds into account in the Master’s Fund distribution process.
Ezra Stiles College, which currently ranks second or third in Parents Fund resources, will be able to improve its library facilities through a contribution from the estate of a former master into the Parents Fund, Ezra Stiles Master Stuart Schwartz said.
Alex Newman ’05, an Ezra Stiles student, said the library merits attention.
“Our library is really in need of renovation,” she said. “We don’t even have enough money to make minor improvements. It’s really sad because other colleges have fantastic libraries.”
The moves by the Council of Masters to level the allocation of funds took into consideration differing resources and tried to offset them, Krauss said. She said reappraisal of funds occurs fairly often to ensure that the process continues to run as intended.
“The whole point of the redistribution was to achieve some basic financial parity, regardless of whether the funds come from endowment or general fund sources,” Krauss said. “We have done that and we periodically reevaluate the method to be sure that we are still achieving the goal of parity.”
Haller said redistribution is intended to ensure that students in each of the colleges have well-rounded educational experiences. He said he believes that this objective has been fulfilled.
“The point is that every college at this point can essentially do what they need to do to maintain programs that enrich the student’s life outside the classroom,” Haller said.
The actions of the Council of Masters certainly a step in the right direction, but additional work remains to be done, Cedar said.
“Really what it comes down to is that Yale can probably do more as far as the redistribution of the [general allocation] money, which we are already doing but not to the fullest extent,” he said.