The 2015–16 school year will be the worst academic year for low-income students in nearly a decade.
Unfortunately, the damage has been so gradual over the last several years that this fact often gets lost on today’s students. But it’s worth stepping back for a moment to ask ourselves a rational question: For a University that still purports to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, how on earth did we get here?
To answer that, we need to remember two key events in Yale’s recent financial aid history: one in 2005, and the other in 2008.
In 2005, student leaders from the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (a former version of Students Unite Now) and the Yale College Council were organizing to pressure the University to enact major financial aid reforms.
President Rick Levin eventually agreed that costs were too high for low-income students and decided to eliminate the parental contribution for families making less than $45,000. According to the News, “Levin said he considered eliminating the student self-help contribution this year as well, but the University’s budget would not allow him to enact both changes simultaneously.” This left student effort levels at $6,650, around the same as today’s $6,400.
It’s important to remember in today’s controversy over financial aid reform that eliminating the self-help portion of the financial aid award was not only considered perfectly feasible 10 years ago, but was also very nearly enacted as a permanent policy.
Over the next few years, student effort gradually ticked up even higher, peaking at $6,800 for the 2007-08 school year, when frustration by the student body finally boiled over.
That brings us to 2008, when the administration finally bowed to pressure from the student body (again) to cut back self-help significantly. In that year, the student effort portion of financial aid dropped precipitously from $6,800 ($4,400 in self-help and $2,400 in student income contribution) to $4,950 ($2,500 in SH and $2,450 in SIC), a 27 percent decrease.
The 2008–09 school year marked the single most affordable time in history to be a low-income student at Yale. That year it seemed we were building upon a great Yale tradition of slowly marching toward a student body that looked progressively more like America.
But every year since 2008, things have gotten worse.
In 2009, student effort increased from $4,950 to $5,050. By 2010, we were up to $5,750. In 2012, costs rose to $6,100. The next year it was $6,300. By 2014, it was $6,400. And finally, in 2015, the University quietly announced it was revoking ISA funding for low-income students to cover the student income contribution, slashing a $3,000 benefit that comes to an average of $750 per year less for a low-income student over each of four years.
In seven years, all of the progress from 2008’s activism was gone.
That history is not one YaleNews puts in their press releases, but it is one students should know, especially in light of Yale’s recent refusal to decrease or eliminate the student portion of financial aid.
Specifically, we should glean two important lessons from this history. First, Yale has reversed course on its commitment to expanding access to low-income students. The University had 10 years between 2005 and 2015 to make progress on that front. But instead of making financial aid more of a priority, aid to low-income students has declined. This is a problem no one in the administration has cared to address.
Second, Yale admitted that barriers to access for low-income students were too high in 2008, yet those costs are even higher today when we include the ISA policy change. So by Yale’s own admission, barriers for the 2015-16 school year are now unacceptably high for low-income students, given Yale’s resources. That’s a problem, and it’s one that administrators today hope we forget.
In short, we have given up on low-income students. In order to pursue other Yale Corporation priorities, we have abandoned our vision to make Yale a more accessible institution of learning and have become satisfied with the status quo. We have failed to lead on issues of affordability and have instead resorted to simply taking cues from our competitors.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In 2005 and again in 2008, students stood up and said enough is enough. After forceful protests and sit-ins that led to arrests, Yale finally caved. But while students weren’t looking, Yale slowly and quietly spent the next decade wiping out every bit of progress we worked so hard to achieve.
It’s high time we stood up again.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.