By now, everyone knew it was time for a change. Ever since Harvard and Princeton revamped their financial aid policies, it was clear that Yale’s own offerings did not stack up. Yesterday, a change finally came, when Yale President Richard Levin announced a series of reforms to the University’s financial aid policies, including the elimination of family contributions for the lowest-income students.
Yale should be proud of its decision, as the University can now make a reasonable claim to a financial aid policy that equals that of any private university in the country. Even if it took competition with other Ivy schools to reach this point, the fact remains that Yale’s policies are now even more generous than the nationally acclaimed aid initiative introduced by Harvard last year. And Yale wisely chose to target the new money it is directing toward financial aid to those who need it most: the families for whom a parental contribution represents a real barrier to attending Yale. This move is especially meaningful given that Yale’s poorest students often find themselves forced to help pay their families’ contribution even while fulfilling their own self-help requirements.
Credit is also due to the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and its allies, whose campaign brought new urgency to the question of improving financial aid. The UOC made a compelling moral case for aid reform, and it did so by drawing attention to the challenges lower-income students face here as undergraduates. We still believe last week’s sit-in at the Admissions Office was counterproductive and unnecessary, and we are skeptical that it had any impact on the decision the Yale Corporation finalized shortly afterward. But we nonetheless admire how the UOC — and later, the Yale College Council — generated the momentum that transformed financial aid reform from an issue rarely discussed on this campus to one that could not be ignored.
Yesterday should not mark the end of that momentum. On the heels of its new proposals, we hope Yale will no longer follow its rivals in offering more generous aid, but lead them. Reducing the family contribution is an important step, but it only begins to address the inequities that exist between students on financial aid and their peers. To accomplish that goal, Yale must go further and reduce the self-help contribution students pay primarily by working or taking out loans.
Yale must also take the lead not simply by improving aid for students who it accepts, but by broadening the pool of high school seniors who even consider applying. Levin’s announcement that Yale would start a new recruiting effort among low-income students was a promising sign, and we hope it represents a new commitment towards opening doors to an Ivy League education in communities where that possibility has seldom existed. For Yale, improving financial aid for low-income students is only part of the challenge. The other part is giving more of those students the opportunity to come here in the first place.