Kacey Fang

When it comes to student satisfaction with a Yale degree, the financial burden students face both while on campus and after graduation is a crucial factor.

Last month, the News distributed a survey to the classes of 2013 and 2014 that focused on the degree to which graduates feel their Yale educations were worth the cost of tuition. The 367 alumni who responded bore different levels of financial responsibility, both in the levels of financial aid they received while at Yale and the student loans they still carry today. Survey results indicate not only that graduates who received financial aid feel more satisfied with the worth of their Yale degrees, but also that higher levels of aid equated to higher levels of satisfaction. Additionally, graduates who still possess loans view the worth of their Yale degrees more negatively than those who do not. 

Sixty-three percent of students who received financial aid during their time at Yale “strongly agreed” that their degrees were worth the cost of tuition, while 50 percent of those who did not receive aid felt the same. These differences grew more pronounced based on the amount of tuition for which graduates were responsible: 72 percent of respondents who paid less than $10,000 in tuition annually “strongly agreed” that their Yale degrees were worth the cost, but just 36 percent of those who paid between $30,001 and $40,000 annually said the same. While for the most part reported satisfaction decreased steadily as the amount paid increased, the survey data actually showed an uptick for those on the least financial aid, as 48 percent of alumni who were responsible for paying more than $40,001 annually strongly agreed that their tuition had been worthwhile — a 12 percent increase from the previous bracket.

Administrators, experts and 18 respondents interviewed further by the News underscored the strong relationship between level of tuition paid and student satisfaction.

Mark Kantrowitz, an expert on student loans and former vice president of the financial aid and higher education consulting firm Edvisors Network, said this trend is likely due to student satisfaction being directly related to return on investment, as students on more financial aid are receiving the same outcome on paper for a lower price. Furthermore, he said, the increase in satisfaction for students who paid more than $40,001 per year is likely due to cost being less of a concern for those students.

Amalia Horan Skilton ’13 said she decided to attend Yale at half-tuition despite receiving more generous offers from other institutions because she believed a Yale degree to be worth the extra cost. However, she said that would have changed had she been asked to cover full tuition.

“If I had been paying the full sticker price, I definitely would not have thought it was as worth it,” she said. “I had the opportunity to go to another university and be paid $20,000 a year, so I would have been paying $200,000 for a marginal difference [in educational benefit].”

Benjamin Boult ’14, who was also responsible for roughly half of his Yale tuition, said he would have been less satisfied with his education had he been expected to pay more. As a film studies major, he said, he felt that Yale’s department lacked an emphasis on technical skills, decreasing the overall value of his education.

Still, Briana Rose Pigott ’13 said although she was responsible for less than $5,000 in tuition annually, she would have been willing to pay more — including full tuition. In that case, she said, she still would have “strongly agreed” that her Yale education was worth the cost, citing the value of the Yale network and the caliber of the University’s history department, in which she completed her major.

“I actually think that the sticker price is worth it,” she said. “The only thing is if I had to pay more for Yale, I might not have gone to law school right away because being free of college debt let me put on law school debt. But I don’t think it would have changed anything in terms of how I feel about Yale.”

The survey also showed that whether or not students carried debt after graduation had a slight effect on student satisfaction, although not as much as whether they had received financial aid. Of students who still had loans to pay off, 53 percent strongly agreed that their education was worth the cost, while 60 percent of those not in debt said the same. The percentage of alumni who still have loans was much lower than the percentage that do not: Only 20 percent of survey respondents still carry student debt.

Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi declined to comment on the survey results, but he said that alumni debt has been decreasing over the years; 16 percent of the class of 2014 graduated with debt, compared to 49 percent of the class of 2000, he said. The average debt for the class of 2014 was $14,853, and $18,228 for the class of 2000, according to Storlazzi. Yale has introduced a score of financial aid reforms over the past decade that may have contributed to this drop: In 2005, Yale eliminated the expected parental contribution for families making less than $45,000 a year. It raised that ceiling to $60,000 in 2008 and $65,000 in 2010.

Andrew Freeburg ’14 said that though he was on financial aid, he did not take out student loans because his parents were able to pay their expected financial contribution. Still, he said, he would have been willing to take out loans in order to finance his Yale education.

“If I were to carry those students loans and my parents hadn’t been able to pay for the education, I would be completely fine with that,” Freeburg said. “The opportunities, experiences and people you meet at Yale more than offset the cost of going to the school.”

Other students disagreed, saying that return on investment is an important part of feeling satisfied with their Yale degrees.

Simon Cozzens ’13, who majored in cognitive science and is currently working several restaurant jobs, said he left Yale with about $20,000 in student loans, despite the fact that Yale funded more than 90 percent of his tuition. Though he said his education was more than worth it, he added that he would have hesitated to take out significantly more loans and that the reality of paying them off has felt more burdensome since graduating.

“Only having $20,000 in loans, I’m not crippled, but if it were $100,000 I might have had to think about it a little bit more,” he said. “There is an understanding that once you get into Yale, financial pressures are lifted to some degree, as it’s easier to pay off those loans with a Yale degree. But that isn’t true for people who aren’t going into something like finance.”