In 2005, Yale began a groundbreaking program aimed at making an international experience possible for students of all income levels. Called the International Summer Award, it consisted of two parts. First, Yale funded a study abroad program or an international internship at a percentage relative to a student’s financial aid package. Second, Yale provided compensation to cover the Student Income Contribution for the following term, recognizing that students studying or working an unpaid internship would be unable to earn the expected $3,050 over the summer.
Called the “ISA-SIC” (if it only covered the income contribution) and the “ISA-SIC Plus” (if it also covered a percentage of the program cost), the award was a powerful statement of Yale’s commitment to global participation and equal opportunity.
This year, Yale quietly eliminated SIC compensation from the 2015 ISA. Further, if a student receives outside grants, the new policy reduces the ISA award once the student’s program budget has been reached, not allowing the student to use the extra funds toward the SIC. This regressive policy change places a significant burden on high-need students.
The hypotheticals are easy to imagine. Consider Sarah, a Yale student with 95 percent ISA eligibility. Brilliant Sarah got her dream Yale-coordinated internship this year, working to protect reindeer in Denmark. The Yale estimated budget for a Denmark internship, including housing, airfare, health insurance, food and work commute is $6,155. Using the ISA calculation, percent eligibility times program budget, the student would receive $5,847.
Based on the Yale-estimated SIC, however, this student would find herself short nearly $3,000 dollars when she returned to campus in the fall. This means she might be unable to pay for books, supplies or travel to and from New Haven.
If only Sarah had decided to go abroad last year instead. She then would have received the ISA-SIC Plus, which on top of the $5,847 from the program budget, would have provided prorated funds to make up for the lost income incurred by going abroad.
Tabling for this article’s purposes the arguments against the SIC itself, the change in ISA policy fundamentally tarnishes Yale’s mission to allow students with significant financial need an international experience. Many students cannot afford to lose a summer of income.
Perhaps all is not lost for poor Sarah. She could still apply for fellowships to replace her lack of earnings, right? Not so with the ISA: “a student’s total scholarships, fellowships and salary cannot exceed the total program budget.” Any additional funds Sarah earns would cap at $6,155, and the ISA would be reduced by the amount of the surplus. According to the information I received from the financial aid office, this applies equally to fellowships that include “earnings replacement” as an explicit purpose. This rule effectively and illogically prevents even outside sources from assisting with the SIC. Even if Yale believes the SIC shouldn’t be included in the ISA, the least they could do is not hamper external funding for that purpose.
Yale defends this policy change in two ways. First, they have raised the overall cap on funding by $500, to $10,500. Practically, this means that if your program ends up costing $12,000 and you have high enough eligibility, you will receive $10,500 rather than $10,000. Obviously, for the handful of programs with this higher cost, the change is a marginally beneficial one. However, the cap is high enough that it ends up not applying to any of the international internships’ budgets and less than half of the study abroad options. I can’t shake the feeling that, because the dollar amount increase is so small in comparison with cutting the SIC coverage, the raised cap is largely symbolic.
Second, since students received the award as a lump sum in May, most ended up using the SIC funds during their summer abroad, rather than for school the next term. I completely understand this criticism, but Yale’s chosen remedy is extreme. It it’s broke, fix it, don’t eliminate it. Perhaps Yale could tie the SIC Plus to percent eligibility rather than pro-rated based on time. That would be a more direct proxy for those who would need the funding the following year.
Reading literature on the ISA, it’s clear Yale is proud of the program. In 2010, for example, the annual CIPE report noted that funding the ISA-SIC Plus “at a time of financial constraint is an indication of the extent to which international experience for undergraduates is a core component in the plan for a global Yale.”
Yale was right to be proud. The ISA-SIC Plus showed the institution at its best. As a junior with high eligibility who was offered his dream international internship this summer, I mourn its elimination. As a member of the Yale community who believes in promoting equal opportunity and global experience, I would anyway.
Will Conlon is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.