The Yale School of Drama’s efforts to increase financial-aid offerings got a boost last week, when administrators announced they have received a donation that will be used to provide scholarships to four students.

The $3.24 million gift from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation will cover tuition and living expenses for four third- or fourth-year drama students studying acting. School of Drama Dean James Bundy and Ron Van Lieu, the head of the acting department, will award the four scholarships to recognize and honor accomplished students beginning in the 2008-’09 academic year.

News of the donation generated a positive response from students, who said the increased aid will reduce post-graduation debt and offer them greater professional flexibility.

Bundy said he decided to allocate the donation to financial aid because the Drama School has committed to making education more accessible to its students. The Greene Foundation’s historical interest in supporting actors also played a role in the decision, he said.

“In the long run, gifts like this represent a significant investment in young artists, reducing their debt burdens and giving them greater flexibility in their artistic and professional choices early in their careers,” Bundy wrote in an e-mail. “This is an important change in the way young artists are funded in America, and we’re proud that Yale is moving into a leadership role in financial aid for artists in training.”

The gift will benefit all students receiving aid because it will free up other money in the school’s budget that can be dedicated to financial aid, Bundy said.

Drama School financial-aid officer Susan Rochette said aid recipients currently must cover their expenses with jobs, unit loans and grants from the school. Ninety percent of current School of Drama students receive need-based financial aid to pay the $24,700 tuition and cover living expenses, but paying back loans takes years and can adversely affect students’ career decisions, she said.

School of Drama graduates enter a much riskier job market than do graduates of other professional schools, such as law school, as there is no guarantee of a steady certain income or even a job, several drama students said. Bryce Pinkham DRA ’08 said even with a paying theater job, acting often does not support life in Los Angeles or New York, the destinations of choice for aspiring actors.

“The reality is, even coming from the Yale School of Drama, people are having to do catering jobs and bartend and all the cliched things that actors do to pay their rent in order to pursue what they’ve spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears working for,” he said.

Pinkham said he fears the oft-lamented fate of graduating, spending all the money that held him through school and forgoing Yale’s rich theatrical tradition for a more lucrative, but less respected, stint in TV commercials.

Less anxiety about paying off loans means actors can concentrate more on their artistic aspirations, Pinkham said.

Kevin Daniels DRA ’10 said he agrees that having to pay back loans mar his artistic ambitions. But the Drama School’s efforts to continue to increase the proportion of grant aid given to students are helping, he said.

“Loans suck; bottom line,” Daniels said in an e-mail. “Knowing that you have to pay someone six months after school is done is like waiting for your impending death.”

In September, the University increased financial support to the School of Drama, reducing the average debt burden of graduates by $10,000. First-year students receive an average of $12,000 in grants. That number reaches $30,000 by the third year.

The last large gift to the school to support financial aid was a $1.5 million donation in 2006 from Edgar Cullman, Jr. ’68 and Edgar M. Cullman ’40, which endows scholarships for directors at the Drama School.