Today in a town hall, the Yale administration will reveal the final numbers for next year’s student effort expectations — marking the next chapter in a years-long struggle by students who have consistently demanded more equitable financial aid policies
As of Monday morning, we don’t know much. We don’t know, for example, what President Salovey meant when he said there would be a “reduction” in student effort — other than that it will be somewhere below the current $3,350 term-time job expectation and $3,050 summer student income contribution. We don’t know exactly what new programs the financial aid office will announce to help low-income students more easily transition to Yale. And perhaps most importantly, we don’t know whether the administration will pledge to keep these numbers low going forward.
But we do know that the administration has finally acknowledged what low-income students have known all along: that for an institution with as much wealth as Yale, the current financial expectations have unnecessarily created two diverging student experiences. One experience of Yale is for students well-off enough to pursue summer internships and term-time extracurriculars free from the burden of an added $6,400 expenditure, and the other is for those of us who have had to take out loans or take on a second or third job to stay afloat.
And we also know this: This time, student activism worked.
This isn’t the first time Yale has significantly expanded its financial aid resources. Former Yale President Richard Levin announced major changes to financial aid in both 2005 and 2008, cutting first the parental contribution and then the student contribution, respectively. But unlike previous announcements about major financial aid overhauls, President Salovey’s email this year forged a new path by specifically acknowledging that the change was the result of student activism. Citing “a spring 2015 report by the Yale College Council” and deciding to include this announcement in his response to student movements on campus, Salovey reminded us that we have power when we speak in a unified and consistent voice.
But that acknowledgement of student activism’s power makes our next steps all the more critical. At the town hall and in the months to come, let’s ask smart questions: Will the University increase its overall financial aid budget? Otherwise, this is simply a shell game meant to create the illusion of more support. Will the University commit to keeping costs down in future years? Otherwise, the University will simply wait out the current generation of students and gradually bring costs back up to the levels that currently stand.
The sad reality is that we’ve played this game before. In 2008, the University decreased the total student effort expectation from $6,800 to $4,950 overnight — a key victory for low-income students. But over the next seven years, administrators slowly inched up costs well above inflation rates to the current $6,400 level and quietly wiped out the possibility of using the International Summer Award toward the student income contribution. The University succeeded in doing this both because the changes each year were small enough to avoid outrage and because later generations of students had collectively forgotten the changes from only a few years before. They simply waited us out.
Make no mistake: Today’s shift toward a more accessible Yale is a victory for low-income students. But we cannot rest on our laurels. Future generations of students can and must continue the fight until the administration presents us with a plan for full elimination of the student income contribution. We should even expand our fight to include a higher campus minimum wage and added programmatic support for low-income students. Yale has the power to enact such reforms. Students now need to sustain pressure to see them through.
I sincerely hope today’s announcement is just one step on a longer road toward more access and more support, but history urges suspicion. There will be a temptation — among students and administrators alike — to see even a precipitous drop in costs as the end of the journey. But we can always do more. As the University’s endowment grows, so too should its commitment to its students.
Come to the town hall today, which is being held at 7 p.m. in LC 102. But when you’re there, remember the context of today’s changes. Remember that it will take future generations of Yalies showing up and making their voice heard to continue holding this University and its financial aid administrators accountable.
And above all, remember that today’s announcement is not a finish line. It’s a mile-marker.
Tyler Blackmon is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com