The announcement came almost quietly.
Top newspapers published stories, but hardly with the same urgency as when Harvard announced its overhaul last month. Story ledes did not call the University’s plan the equivalent of a new vision — because there was, in the end, nothing particularly original about it.
But as Richard Levin told the News when asked why he seemed to have released a virtual carbon copy of Harvard’s plan: “Would you rather we not do it?”
Of course not. In fact, news yesterday of Yale’s dramatic financial-aid expansion is some of the best that current students and future Elis have heard in a while.
Although the move is the first to target middle-class families, the chief beneficiaries are lower-income students whose Yale education just got a whole lot more manageable. The $60,000 to $120,000 demographic, that common family that often falls through the woodwork as neither rich nor poor, is also a winner in Yale’s formulation.
And we applaud the decision makers for factoring some student sentiment into the final policy. We must not take it for granted that there appears to be no significant disconnect between what undergraduates have called for over past years and what they have received.
Meanwhile, what Yale’s plan lacks in creativity, it makes up for in several areas that may even edge out Harvard. Levin’s refusal to make home equity part of the equation is a means to crack down on attempts to game the system, and his refusal to increase tuition next year beyond inflation adjustments — a move that affects all Yale families — is applaudable.
But for all the well deserved hype, let us not lose perspective. There were, at least, two red flags.
We asked Levin if, on the whole, Yale’s plan was better than Harvard’s. He said no. I think they’re going to be pretty comparable, he explained. Fair enough: One-upping the Cantabs on raw numbers could lead to a benevolent arms race of sorts that would leave both institutions needing to reverse their forward-moving progress of late.
But then, the plan begins to be seen as a more convoluted version than that of its original trailblazer. And more important, why cower to Harvard and follow its lead almost to a tee rather than choosing alternative routes to similar goals? The question is at the heart of a larger problem: Although students accepted to both Yale and Harvard will likely not have to make a decision on the basis of aid offered, will those students truly be more economically diverse?
Interestingly, an analysis by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education found that at elite American universities, “contrary to what one might expect, it appears that there is no strong correlation between the generous new fiscal measures and success in bringing low-income students to the campus. The only sure conclusion is that money alone will not do the job.”
And in an interview Monday, aid analyst Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation points out that the move would be much stronger if administrators said: “Here’s what we’re going to do on the financial-aid side, and here’s what we’re going to do on the admissions side.”
“Together,” he argued, “those two things would really start to democratize the Yale student body.”
Check? Maybe. But “checkmate” in the chess game against inequality and the unfair playing field — while now within reach for the first time ever — still seems far, far away.