Equalizing the college experience

Over the course of the past few weeks, there has been an ongoing discussion on our campus about Yale’s financial aid policies. Last week, Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan and Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi publicly joined this important conversation through a column in the News (“The truth about Yale’s financial aid,” Jan. 30). They published their column as a public response to the financial aid report the Yale College Council released on Jan. 8.

I enjoyed Quinlan and Storlazzi’s informative op-ed. In particular, I was encouraged by their professed commitment to ensuring that Yale increases its accessibility to students from all backgrounds but also better clarifies its existing financial aid policies to prospective and current students. That being said, I wish the op-ed had done more to address the substantial rise in the expected student contribution over the past five years, a rise that has significantly outpaced the rate of inflation.

Until now, administrators have not provided satisfactory answers for why the number keeps rising. They cite the expected contributions at our peer institutions and the need for our students to have a stake in their education or, as they put it, “skin in the game.” Neither answer is good enough.

Although peers can be helpful guides, ultimately decisions regarding financial aid should be based on what is best for the Yale community. Yale’s financial aid policies exist not to provide a competitive advantage but, to paraphrase the words of University President Peter Salovey, to put the ladder of opportunity within reach for any student deserving of a seat at Yale.

Quinlan and Storlazzi noted in their column that Yale has been a leader on need-based financial aid since 1964. If this tradition of leadership is to continue, important financial aid decisions cannot be guided by a desire to follow what Harvard and Princeton are doing. Rather, our goal should be, as closely as is possible, to tie success at the University to individual merit and perseverance rather than a family’s socio-economic status. Regardless of what Harvard and Princeton are doing, sharply rising student contribution undermines this mission.

Finally, if ensuring all students have a stake in their education is so compelling, why are we forcing only students from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds to have “skin in the game?” And why has the requisite amount of skin increased so sharply in the last five years?

No one can deny that Yale’s financial aid policies are extremely generous, and the University deserves our gratitude for eliminating some of the obstacles that would otherwise prevent many students from attending. However, this fact should not be used to legitimize complacency in the face of the sincere concerns expressed by students. For this reason, I share Quinlan and Storlazzi’s eagerness to continue this dialogue as important financial aid decisions are made for the 2015–’16 academic term and beyond. Their column suggested a willingness to work with the YCC on increasing transparency and improving communication with prospective students. This is important. But the real ball game is leveling the playing field here at Yale.

Michael Herbert

Feb. 2

The writer is a junior in Saybrook College and the president of the Yale College Council.