Tuesday, University President Richard Levin and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. jointly announced a new scholarship program, New Haven Promise, to be funded largely by the University. The initiative, to which Yale has committed for at least the next four years, will provide New Haven high schoolers with at least a 3.0 grade point average a free ride to any state college or university in Connecticut.
We feel this to be a commendable gesture on behalf of our University, as it will increase the positive influence we have on the community, strengthen the New Haven community as a whole and play an indispensable role in broader school reform in our city. That said, we wish the University had been more forthcoming from the start about where the money for this program is coming from and how much this laudable effort will cost.
New Haven Promise is exactly the kind of initiative that an institution like ours should sponsor. While we often get caught up in the idea of Yale as an “international university” — and indeed, for a private institution, Yale has made some remarkable strides in international cooperation with China, India and, most recently, Singapore — it is important to remember that we are ultimately grounded in our immediate surroundings.
President Levin often repeats the trope that “what’s good for New Haven is good for Yale.” Short of turning Old Campus into a public playground, this is usually the case: When it comes to bringing businesses to downtown, making the community a safer place or promoting New Haven’s public image, the University and the city both benefit.
Furthermore, Yale’s financial support for New Haven Promise goes a long way toward improving town-gown relations, and serves as a good model for Yale’s cooperation with the city. Reforming New Haven’s public schools is a job for the city, not Yale. But given the considerable resources our University has at its disposal, making a relatively insignificant commitment to providing a better future for New Haven students — some of them future Yalies and the children of Yale employees — is the least we can do.
We recognize that there are valid criticisms of this initiative as well. There are those who would argue that the University, in a time of depleted budgets, is irresponsibly ignoring its own students and employees by diverting resources to a purely civic initiative of this nature. To a certain extent, these concerns are legitimate, as questions remain about who the University’s funding partners will be and, for that matter, how much this program will ultimately cost.
However, those criticisms are ultimately short-sighted, as the potential long term benefit these scholarships will provide will be more than worth the investment. As students, we believe that higher education is probably the single most important opportunity a young person today could receive; and as one of the most respected universities in the world, we can hardly understate our emphasis on providing students with a good college education. Given our institution’s ideals, how can we not extend these opportunities to those who grew up in the shadow of our gothic towers?