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?”

BlackmonTBecause the same question always comes.

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 tyler.blackmon@yale.edu.

  • Renata

    As a Latina single mother with over $54,000 in college loans from a school that is not half as prestigious or wealthy as Yale, I had to stop myself from laughing at Taylor Blackmon’s outrage at the hidden loan burden on Yale students. What kind of burden are we talking about? Some figures:

    1. According to Yale, 64% of its undergraduates receive some form of financial aid.

    2. According to Blackmon, “half of students receiving financial aid at Yale” take out some form of loan. (In other words, 32% of Yale undergrads take a loan)

    3. Blackmon again: “for 18% of such students, those loans will add up to more than $10,000.”

    In other words: 6% of Yale undergrads will owe more than $10,000.

    The median starting salary for a Yale undergraduate is $59,100.

    In other words, Mister Blackmon: cry me a river.

    • ldffly

      You better be careful about where a Yale diploma will take you in the labor market. In many parts of this country, employers will deal with a Yale graduate as though he or she were a felon. That is not an exaggeration. In that case, that debt burden will become very serious very quickly, just as serious as what you face. Reverse snobbery can be satisfying at times, but the contention in your post just doesn’t do it.

      • William Freedberg

        Damn, what parts of the country?
        (signed, a yalie concerned about getting a job.)

        • ldffly

          Stay away from rural MO, St. Louis, and southern third of IL unless you have contacts or family who will help you. I can’t speak about Kansas City.

          • dude

            Depends on the type of employer too, though. You’d probably be fine with any large corporate employer, provided they don;t have a pre-existing college internship/recruiting program. A lot of the big corporations hire the vast majority of their employees from their intern pool. This is especially true of engineering/manufacturing jobs (not that many Yalies are looking for these). If you aren’t in the recruiting pool prior to graduating, don’t expect much luck. Smaller companies (particularly in less “glamorous” locations) are concerned about you being a flight risk or there being something odd about you coming to some random locale that’s usually served by a local state University. This sort of employer will probably not hire you. That said, they just won’t even interview you, so nothing to worry about, right ;-)?

    • alex

      Talking about percentages of the Yale student body is kind of pointless, when part of the problem is that Yale admits 50% of its class from the top 4% of the U.S. income bracket. Yes, many current Yale students do not have to deal with loans. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Any issue that disproportionately affects low-income students at Yale will ultimately affect only a small percentage of the student body.

      Also: why should any Yale students have to take out loans? Yale is sitting on a $24 billion endowment, and is committed to making Yale affordable for everyone, without loans. This is a great goal. It makes sense: students from wealthy families deserve to be at Yale no more than students from low-income families. So why not help out those 6% you talk about? It would not be very expensive.

    • yale2016

      I understand your struggle, but this does not serve as a particularly good argument against the point of this column, Yes, it would be great if this society was a more generous place where individual do not have to carry such crushing debt for the purpose of education. But that is neither here not there. Your point does not detract from the thesis of this column; it adds to it. Just because you have it worse does not mean loans are not a problem for low income Yale students. This is an undergraduate Yale newspaper. Of course it will express issues concerning the Yale undergraduate experience. Your frustrations are valid, but I don’t think this is the right forum to express it.

  • 15gladyskravitz

    Perhaps the real answer is: no one should expect an Ivy League education to be given away for free. I realize this is a preposterous concept for those who have been told by this country (the media, the administration, the government education system) for almost the last decade that: “you DESERVE free education, food, healthcare,etc….it’s your RIGHT”. Well it is NOT what built this country, nor this institution and I can’t figure out why or when the collective decided this would be the new meme.
    Try working really hard for what you want. Students and families. It’s been a pretty successful method for the last 200+ years. And it’s still one of the few places on earth you can be born into poverty and change your circumstances 180*, but it will soon NOT BE THE CASE as we head in this ill advised direction.

    • Veritas

      I think you’re complaining about a different issue. Few “expect” an Ivy League education to be free, and indeed, Yale isn’t free for anyone who doesn’t have significant external scholarships. What Mr. Blackmon is complaining about is Yale’s refrain that students need not take out any loans, which isn’t as universally true as Yale implies.

      • 100wattlightbulb

        Not only do they expect it, but when it doesn’t materialize the WAY they thought it would, there is a lot of “woe is me”. But, yes, Yale should be forthcoming and make no apologies.

  • Doc1943

    Ten thousand dollars in loans for four years at the best university in the entire free world.
    Seems like a helluva deal to me. I thought you were going to say $200,000.
    Try this next time: Tell them up front that they will need to take out student loans to pay for some of the cost of their education.Let that sink in. Then in the question and answer session they will no doubt ask “Well, how MUCH in loans will we need?”
    When you give them the $10,000 dollar number I will bet there will be more smiles than frowns staring back at you.

  • catofschrodinger

    Thank you, Mr. Blackmon, for your excellent account.

    I, like many Yalies, was drawn to Yale because of the financial aid promise to be loan free. As an international, I am extremely fortunate not to have a summer income contribution. However, on the second day of my arrival, I, with many other international Yalies on financial aid, were brought into a lecture hall and given a presentation about our tax obligations. For those internationals on full financial aid, they were broken the news that any financial aid above tuition is taxed at 14%. Suddenly, they had an extra $7-8k to find over their Yale years. No mention whatsoever was ever made of this, even after accepting the offer from Yale. Thankfully I am not on full financial aid, but if I were, I do not know how I would have coped without taking out loans. While one could argue that this 14% tax is readily available information, many international students who come from countries where it would be unthinkable to tax financial aid grants.

    This is one story, but is indicative of a broader institutional failure for the YSFS to be transparent about the way that Yale funds its students. It also represents how YSFS misunderstanding of how challenging it can be financially for poorer Yale students.

    I told this story to some friends who had enrolled as internationals at Princeton and Harvard; they were fully informed about their tax obligations before they came to college.

    I’m sure if Yale SFS were more transparent, Yale’s acceptance rates would be lower than they are now. Students deserve to be better informed.

  • btmc

    You seem to be misunderstanding part of the no-loan claim. What Yale says is true: there are no loans in their financial package. If you get $40,000 in financial aid, none of that has to be paid back. You may decide to take out loans to cover the remainder, but that’s not up to the university. Based on how they’ve calculated your need, that remainder is a fair amount for you to pay one way or another, and in practice that seems to be true.

    At many other schools, this is not the case. Often, a supposed $40,000 aid package will be $20,000 in scholarships and $20,000 in loans, and that may not even cover everything. So Yale students are far, far better off when it comes to loans than students with loans at most other schools.

    • alex

      “Based on how they’ve calculated your need, that remainder is a fair amount for you to pay one way or another, and in practice that seems to be true.”

      Tyler hasn’t misunderstood anything — he just disagrees with this sentence (and I agree with him).

      The idea of “no-loan” is that the remainder should actually be payable without resorting to loans. But it is only payable without resorting to loans if you work a nearly impossible amount: during the term, you’d have to spend more time working than you do in classes, and during the summer, you’d have to work full-time in your hometown (you have to make $3,050, which in many jobs is impossible in a summer if you also are responsible for food and rent).

      Are these reasonable expectations to put on the lower-income half of the student body? No — and in practice, a large number of those students take out loans.

      • dude

        You may have a point about the nature of financial aid generally, but, as someone now at a less generous institution, let me tell you that Yale is a saint by comparison to some other schools. Most schools count federal student loans as “financial aid” despite you having to pay an “origination fee” (>4% of the principal), interest, and the principal back at some point in the future. You see some school claiming that 90+% of students are on student aid only to realize that just means most students have to borrow money. Woopdidee!

        Yale’s package is way more generous than most any other school you’ll find. This column would have made a much more salient point and sounded less whiny had you addressed these misleading practices generally rather than complained about a (barely if at all) misleading echo of standard practices at Yale.

        • alex

          I hear that. I think talk of financial aid at Yale does need to be in the context of the soaring cost of higher education across the country. But just like a millionaire who donates $20 to charity is not “more generous” than a homeless woman who donates $1, an institution as rich as Yale must be held to higher standards than schools with much smaller endowments.

          Places like Yale determine the conversation around financial aid. As wealthy institutions, they can create the type of financial aid that is most just — financial aid that actually fulfills the promise of extending the Yale experience to all students who earned admission. It was this ideal that led students to push Yale to eliminate loans from the package in 2008, and before that, to push the expected family contribution down to zero for Yale’s lowest-income families.

  • ldffly

    No it isn’t. It happened to me.
    Inability to obtain interviews had been my main problem in searching for work after Yale. However, there were two instances back in the early 1980s, in which I was called for an interview, then briefly told off during the interview.
    My salary request for both jobs was barely over minimum wage. In both instances, I shook hands, everything was cordial, but the interviewers began to look at my application in detail and the tone changed. The first time, the interviewer started to get a red face, then asked, “Why did you have to have all this education?” I explained what my plans had been and then explained that the academic job market crashed just as I was starting to search. I thought the best thing would be to come here (raised in the area) and go to work. My summer work, I thought, backed me up on willingness to sweat and get dirty. “Uh huh. Well we have other candidates and we want to give them a chance.” Out the door.
    The second interview went roughly according to the previous pattern, except that the hard question was, “How could you do this to your parents?” That dumbfounded me. I just said that I had financial aid and didn’t take money from my family. Done; out the door.
    Now, how are felons treated? They typically aren’t called in. Same with me. If the conviction is hidden, then revealed after a hiring, the employee is normally fired. However, an employer has to be careful in his reaction to a job seeker with a felony. That is the law in many states. How do you characterize the insulting questions during interviews for jobs which quite frankly very few people wanted?
    I didn’t expect anybody to bend over backwards to hire a Yale graduate nor did I expect anybody to grovel at my feet. Just the opposite. I thought the education should have been a matter of indifference, but it wasn’t. I was there to request a job, perform a service for a wage, and do what I was told. Evidently not good enough.
    I ultimately ended up in a line of business in which hiring is done without concern for educational history. So fine for me. Again, I would just urge caution for those leaving Yale with debt. $59k per annum should not be taken for granted as a starting salary in some parts of the US. That reality should give students perspective in regards to taking on college loans.

    • dude

      Sounds like you interviewed for the wrong kind of job. I sympathize having found myself in a similar situation at one point. The sad reality is that corporate and small business America is shockingly rigid in how it recruits and what “kind” of people they’re looking for. If you don’t fit the mold, they can be pretty testy about your “fit.” Today, rather than go through an awkward interview like that, a recruiter would just filter out nonconforming resumes with a computer screening program and never even talk to you. In some ways, I envy you. At least you knew why people weren’t hiring you. Today, it’s a black box and you’re left with nothing but silence trying to figure out what you “did wrong.” Still sucks either way.

  • alex

    OK, let’s rephrase… Yale is sitting on some of the income from that endowment, and could stay within its self-imposed spending rule while eliminating the student contribution. (Yale had a surplus of $51 million this year, as well as growing the endowment by $4 billion.)

  • trollalert

    As a member of the YCC, Tyler does a disservice to those on his committee. Nowhere in his column does he share conversations he has had with those who work with Yale financial aid. Financial aid at Yale is one of the best if not the best in the nation. The same people he bashes in this column are the same people he needs to work with to make progress for students. That is not a good look.

    • alex

      Where did he bash his colleagues on the YCC committee? He is on a committee that recommended the elimination of the student contribution… I think it makes sense that he would write a comment critical of the student contribution.

      • trollalert

        There was a mistype. By committee, I meant the people he needs to be working with to make changes at student financial services

  • JJ

    I graduated in ’09, and managed to get out of the summer income contribution ever summer. How? By getting the International Summer Award. While this means that you can’t ever take a summer class or intern in the US, going away every summer means that you’ll have overseas experience. There are also lots of sources of funding (many that go untapped) to cover summer internships and research travel overseas.
    That’s part of how I graduated debt free.

  • trollalert
  • dedwards

    There is a class action lawsuit in here somewhere