As I wrapped up my presentation to 20 eager high school juniors — each one filled to the brim with unadulterated enthusiasm for the “affordable” university I had just pitched them — I clenched my fist and took a deep breath as I asked in a steady voice, “So, who has questions?”
And this time was no different. Only a couple of questions in, a shy girl sitting towards the back raised a shaky hand and asked, “What about student loans?”
I know what I’m supposed to say right here — I’ve received enough training for this, a job I desperately wanted. Here is the part where I tell her not to worry, that Yale is affordable and that the University is so well-endowed and generous that loans are no longer a necessity for undergraduate students.
I even have nice glossy postcards with me to soothe her doubts when she doesn’t believe me the first time. “STUDENTS NEED NO LOANS,” they scream. Yale is affordable for everyone.
But I can’t. Because I’ve seen the real numbers. I’ve crunched enough data and methodically compiled enough student testimony to know the reality of Yale’s flashy no-loan promise. Yale’s insistence that it does not require undergraduates to take out student loans is a bald-faced lie.
By graduation, nearly half of students receiving financial aid at Yale will need to take out loans to cover gaps in their education funding, according to a survey conducted by the Yale College Council last November. For 18 percent of such students, those loans will add up to more than $10,000.
But instead of admitting those faults and addressing those concerns head-on, Yale’s publicity team is doubling down on its dishonest loan talking points. In a recent press release heralding the University’s lackluster “Access Yale” financial aid initiative, the Office of Public Affairs & Communications wrote that “loans are no longer a necessity” for undergraduates.
Of course student loans are still a necessity. Students don’t take on a loan because it’s fun being in debt. They take on a student loan because the net cost of attending Yale is more expensive than they could possibly afford, even after taking on jobs, asking money from their parents and giving over whatever meager savings they have left to the school they love.
The stark lack of truth in Yale’s advertising has real consequences for students’ lives, especially after they have already accepted Yale’s offer of admission. Yet Access Yale’s mission — simply to stretch current financial aid policy over two more residential colleges — does nothing to help students who even now struggle to access a Yale education.
According to the 2014 YCC survey, we know that 91 percent of students on financial aid considered their financial aid award letter the most important or a very important factor in their decision to matriculate at Yale. But if that decision were made on the false pretense of a no-loan guarantee, then students will eventually find themselves in a financial trap upon arriving at Yale.
Surely Yale has a moral responsibility to intervene. Either the Office of Financial Aid should work to pare back the student contribution to make their no-loan promises a reality, or the Yale Admissions Office should be up-front about the unfortunate realities of our budget and admit that Yale very often is a place that requires its students to take out loans to fund their education.
We students are resilient, and we can work with hard truths about finances, budgets and long-term debt. But we cannot make informed decisions when the people we trust deliberately feed us lies.
I want to be able to tell that girl in the audience that she doesn’t have anything to worry about, that Yale is truly a place so dedicated to equal access for low-income students that she can graduate in four years completely debt free. And maybe one day I can.
But in the meantime, we have to be brutally honest with her and her family. Surely she deserves it.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.