While students and administrators debate possible reforms to Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies, some officials have mentioned that certain issues are a matter of federal policy, extending beyond the University.
At an open forum last Wednesday, where students were given the opportunity to voice concerns with Yale’s treatment of mental health issues, several students mentioned the financial burden of withdrawal: Students who withdraw after the first 10 days of a term may find themselves thousands of dollars in debt to a university they will not be attending that semester. Students who withdraw within the first 10 days — who are technically on a leave of absence, not withdrawn — do not face the same fees.
Administrators at the panel acknowledged the burden of such policies, but they also said that there are certain policies that cannot be changed because of federal guidelines.
“There is a legal, governmental component to all this,” English professor John Rogers, who is chairing a committee tasked with re-evaluating Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies, said at the panel. “All students must be treated equally, for financial aid reasons and [National Collegiate Athletic Association] standards. A student severing the relationship [with the University] at a certain point early in the term has to be marked for financial aid reasons.”
Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which regulates the administration of federal financial aid programs, students who withdraw from a university may need to return some of their federally disbursed financial aid, which may include Pell Grants, federal direct loans and PLUS loans. If the student withdraws before 60 percent of the term is over, he or she is required to repay the federal aid on a pro-rata schedule. If the student withdraws past the 60 percent point, he or she is entitled to keep their aid.
The “Return of Title IV Funds” regulations, however, do not preclude schools from developing their own institutional refund policies in addition to the federal policies.
According to the Yale College Undergraduate Regulations, Yale students who petition for a leave of absence within the first 10 days of the term are eligible for a full refund of that term’s fees. Students who withdraw after the 10th day, but before the end of first quarter, can receive a 50 percent rebate, and students who withdraw before the midterm can receive 25 percent. After midterm, students will not be reimbursed.
At Stanford, students are only eligible for a full rebate on tuition if they petition for a leave of absence by the end of the first day of classes. According to Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Student Handbook, students who declare a leave of absence before Sept. 11 must repay $906 in room fees and $273.75 in the student services fee.
Aside from Title IV regulations, Yale’s own institutional schedule of tuition reimbursement is set by the University, Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said. In addition, he said, because all financial aid at the University is need-based, Yale has the ability to adjust students’ aid awards when they withdraw.
“Essentially, financial aid awards are adjusted appropriately when a student withdraws, based on the revised need,” he said.
This flexibility allows withdrawn students to have more positive experiences with financial aid than might be stated on paper. While Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations state that readmitted students on financial aid will receive “less gift assistance than usual” during their first term back, Stewart McDonald ’15 said that when he returned to campus last fall, his financial aid package remained unchanged.
Ian Akers ’14, who withdrew twice, said in February that his financial aid award was unaffected by his withdrawals. In fact, he said, the University was unexpectedly generous.
“When I [first] came [to Yale], they agreed to give me eight semesters,” Akers said. “They gave me 10. That’s another $50,000.”
But interviews with officials from Yale, Harvard and Stanford revealed widespread variation in the application of reimbursement policies, as well as administrative confusion surrounding the specifics of such policies.
According to Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Pamela George, who oversees the readmission process, how legal statutes will affect Yale’s attempts to reform its withdrawal and readmission policies is currently under review.
“I’m not sure about legal issues and if they say anything that Yale can or can’t do [in addressing student complaints],” she said. “I don’t recall thinking [there were conflicts] at the time I was reviewing it. But again, these are issues that we are in the process of reviewing right now. It’s being carefully researched.”
Adam Muri-Rosenthal, the dean of Adams House at Harvard, said reimbursements at Harvard are also prorated, and that students who take a leave of absence are responsible for the cost of room, board and tuition equivalent to the amount of time they spent enrolled. But when asked if those rules are federally dictated or left to the discretion of the university, Muri-Rosenthal said he did not know.
Sally Mentzer, an academic advisor at Stanford who coordinates the returning student process, also acknowledged that Stanford sets hard cutoff dates for reimbursement. But she said she does not know where those dates come from.
“It’s stated on our academic calendar, so my hunch is that it’s probably federal law,” she said.
According to Peter Lake, director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law, much of this confusion stems from the fact that federal financial aid and reimbursement laws were not written with mental health issues in mind. As a result, the application of these policies does not always square perfectly with how issues of mental health should be treated.
“A lot of these things really shouldn’t be about money,” he said. “They should be about wellness and safety first.”.