To the citizens of Germany: You’re welcome. No, no — no need for flowers.
Last week, citing the Yale endowment’s extraordinary returns, I wrote a column entitled, “Make Yale Free.” (Its request, I hope, is self-explanatory.) The very next day, Lower Saxony announced it would become the very last German state to abolish tuition, making German universities completely free. As I said: Germans, you’re welcome.
Closer to home, the University of Chicago announced that same day that it was creating a program called “No Barriers,” through which it would completely eliminate student loans for UChicago students, waive an application fee for anyone applying for financial aid, remove the work requirement for students and even guarantee eligible students paid summer internships after their freshman year.
This is an extraordinary gesture by the university. Seriously, bravo. “With UChicago ‘No Barriers’ and our other commitments,” UChicago President Robert J. Zimmer announced at a press conference, “we are ensuring that people from all backgrounds and all incomes can afford to attend the university, and that they can thrive and succeed in whatever path they choose.” This is yet another moment where Yale has sacrificed the opportunity to lead — I can only hope that it chooses to follow.
Tuition accounts for one third of UChicago’s operating expenses. Tuition accounts for roughly 10 percent of Yale’s operating expenses. UChicago, with an endowment of $6.67 billion, announced it will be spending $112 million on financial aid next year. Yale, with its record-high endowment of $23.9 billion, is spending roughly $120 million on financial aid this year. Yale and UChicago have comparable undergraduate populations.
Especially in light of the endowment’s outstanding growth, the Yale administration should be pretty embarrassed by this comparison. UChicago has an endowment one quarter the size of ours. They are far more dependent on tuition than we are. Yet they will be nearly matching the sum we put forth to help level the playing field for high-performing, low-income students.
From 2004 to 2013, in spite of the 2008 financial meltdown, UChicago’s endowment increased from $3.60 billion to $6.67 billion, with an average return of 10 percent per year. In no small part because they were flush with so much money, administrators likely knew it was time to do something big.
But we too are rolling in the dough. At Yale, over roughly the same period, our endowment grew from $12.75 billion to $20.8 billion. Over the last decade, our endowment’s average annual return was 11 percent per year.
Even as UChicago eliminates its student work requirement, Yale’s is still going strong. Upperclassmen on 100 percent aid still must earn $3,350 a year, which might not sound like much — but this requirement can make it prohibitively difficult for students to participate in high-octane extracurriculars or do their best in school. More importantly, Yale truly does not need this money. To put the student contribution in perspective, even if every single Yale undergrad had to pay this $3,350, that would only account for four tenths of one percent of the amount the endowment increased last year alone.
Since the 2008-’09 school year, the work requirement has increased by a hefty 34 percent (from $2,500 to $3,350). In other words, Yale is rapidly increasing the student contribution for those on full aid even though it has tons and tons and tons of money in the bank.
And this is to say nothing of the additional $3,050 upperclassmen on full aid have to earn over summer break. $3,050 might not sound like much, but it prevents many from participating in unpaid summer internships and forces many more into those old chestnuts, finance and consulting. Again, this sum is like a fly in the headlights of Mother Yale’s aircraft carrier.
Meanwhile, loans remain far more of a reality than the Yale administration is willing to admit. According to a study by The Institute for College Access and Success, 15 percent of Yale students finished college in debt, with the average borrower in the class of 2013 owing $13,009. “STUDENTS NEED NO LOANS,” screamed one postcard that the admissions office sent this summer to 20,000 high-achieving, low-income students, according to a recent Yale Herald article.
By covering the student work contribution or beefing up financial aid so Yalies actually don’t need to take out student loans, administrators wouldn’t be making Yale free for everyone. But they would be making this school substantially more affordable for those who need it the most. They may not want to pull a Germany, but they can certainly, easily afford to pull a Chicago.
Look, administrators, I know you’re probably not going to make Yale completely free. But this is something nice, easy, reasonable and relatively cheap. Let’s copy UChicago. Seriously, you can plagiarize President Zimmer’s statement — I don’t care. Ensure that your students don’t have loans. Eliminate the work requirement. We can afford this. We can do this. I’m waiting.
Until then, Auf Wiedersehen, fair readers. If there are any high school students in the audience, maybe it’s time to start developing a taste for deep dish.
Scott Stern is a senior in Branford College. His columns run on Monday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.