The Yale College Council’s report on financial aid, presented to the administration Jan. 8 and released on social media yesterday, is a detailed, thorough and important look at the University’s means of providing for students who can’t afford a Yale education.
The report makes a series of recommendations, based on findings from a survey of 1,191 undergraduates. Most significantly, the YCC is calling on the University to freeze the student effort portion of the financial aid program and devise a long-term plan for its elimination.
We welcome the report — and applaud the YCC for this contribution, truly representative of the type of advocacy student government should do on behalf of its constituents. The 58-page document should be required reading for University President Peter Salovey, Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi and the entire financial aid office.
The News endorses the YCC’s central proposal. Students should not be asked to contribute more to their financial aid package, as they have been forced to do every year but one since 2009. Rather, their contribution should be phased out, fulfilling Yale’s promise to be “accessible to students from all walks of life” by ensuring that ballooning financial commitments don’t create two sort of lives at Yale: one encumbered by multiple campus jobs and summer obligations and the other free of these restraints.
It is the stated view of the financial aid office that the student effort requirement is not an undue burden, but 68 percent of students surveyed by the YCC said they found it difficult to fulfill. The student effort component of the financial aid package is split into self-help (term-time earnings) and student income contribution (summer earnings), currently amounting to $4,475 for freshmen and $6,400 for upperclassmen.
Administrators extol the virtues of the student contribution. They claim that financial aid recipients should have “skin in the game,” as they are quoted in the report, and that holding a student job is valuable.
We fail to understand why these benefits apply only to students who qualify for financial aid. We fail to understand why lower-income students benefit from term-time and summer employment, while their wealthier peers do not. Yet this is the assumption Yale makes in maintaining this requirement.
A vibrant extracurricular culture is fundamental to the Yale College experience. Students here spend hours each week doing what they love outside the classroom — an opportunity compromised by the need to work 12 hours a week at a campus job, on top of course work.
The report describes the matter well: “The current system divides Yalies into two classes of students: one group that has time to pursue the kind of activities that the Yale Admissions Office displays prominently on its website and in mailers to prospective students, and another which must instead work long hours each week to (almost) afford to study alongside their wealthier peers.”
Still, we recognize that eliminating the student contribution will come at a substantial cost to the University. For this reason, while we do not believe the student effort requirement should exist, we are not calling on Yale to eliminate it tomorrow. Instead, we support the YCC’s recommendation that the administration create a timeline for phasing out student effort.
It’s worth noting the historical importance of this report. In 2005, the YCC passed a resolution calling for a decrease in both the family and student portions of financial aid. Following YCC meetings with administrators and student protests, the University expanded its financial aid program to reduce the family contribution for many students. The student contribution, however, was left untouched. The YCC and student activists continued lobbying for a reduction in the student contribution, and the University announced a nearly $2,000 reduction in the student term-time contribution in 2008. Over the past six years, however, the term-time contribution has increased by $750.
Before last spring’s YCC election, the issue of financial aid was on the periphery of the council’s agenda. But in last April’s election, all four YCC presidential candidates incorporated financial aid reform into their platforms, taking aim specifically at the student contribution. The report on financial aid marks the first time the YCC has publicly advocated for the elimination of the student contribution.
Yale has a robust financial aid program, one that is highly effective in attracting students from all backgrounds. The University’s next step should be to continue leveling the playing field for all students once they are here.