The last time Yale overhauled its financial aid policy was seven years ago. Thousands of students saw their tuition bills cut in half. Families making less than $60,000 a year were told that they would no longer have to contribute anything toward their child’s Yale education. It was the largest increase in financial aid spending in University history, adding $56 million annually to the budget.
Monday’s changes added $2 million.
Three weeks ago, in a University-wide email, President Peter Salovey announced what students expected to be the next financial aid overhaul — a promised reduction of the student effort. As students crowded into LC 102 last night, optimism was in the air. Administrators had an opportunity to entirely redefine the student effort portion of financial aid. We saw generous change, but the new policies barely approach what is possible.
For the 2016–17 academic year, the student summer income contribution for returning students will be reduced from $3,050 to $2,600, with no changes for freshmen. For students the financial aid office considers highest need, this contribution will drop to $1,700. The student employment portion, which in most cases is filled by a campus job, will remain the same, with sophomores, juniors and seniors expected to contribute $3,350 to their education, and freshmen expected to contribute $2,850.
Yale’s leaders in admissions and financial aid should be commended for their willingness to sit down and engage with students for 90 minutes to explain the changes. But the new policies fail to address the larger problem — that Yale provides two divergent tracks for its students, one for those who have money, and another for those who don’t. In fact, these changes may exacerbate the social stratification that continues to exist on Yale’s campus.
Reducing the student summer income contribution was an important first step. The reductions may not be enough to completely change a student’s plans for the coming summer, but they will help students who want to take unpaid internships in order to prepare for a desired career.
Students on financial aid, moreover, are also subjected to a different Yale experience during term time. The student employment portion of a student’s financial aid package, which often forces students to take an on-campus job, will remain the same. Students on financial aid will still be obliged to spend many hours a week at work. Wealthier students bear no such burden.
The new changes divide students on financial aid into two categories. The first consists of students with the absolute highest need. The second consists of everyone else on aid. We are glad that Yale has chosen to consciously prioritize the needs of those students most in need of financial aid. For them, the changes will have an important impact. But instead of introducing a sliding scale, the administration has devised a mechanism that does not encompass all students’ needs. We have heard for more than a decade now that Yale’s financial aid policy divides the student body in half. But, we know that there are more than two experiences with financial aid. Some students take out loans, others are able to access family funds, many receive outside scholarships and some students simply take on more hours of work a week. This new system still fails to account for the fact that no two financial situations are the same.
The disparity in the student body was the reason students demanded action in the first place. Caesar Storlazzi, the director of financial aid, told the full lecture hall on Monday that he does not think financial aid defines the Yale experience. The ensuing laughter from those in the audience suggested otherwise. Students have made it clear that the student summer income contribution constitutes a real barrier to experiencing all that Yale has to offer. In the past decade, we have seen protests outside Woodbridge Hall, sit-ins at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, numerous opinion columns and a direct demand from Next Yale. These have all sent a clear message to the administration: The status quo cannot continue. But today, many students woke up disappointed. For them, Yale will remain a divided institution.
We do not know everything that went into this decision. We are glad that the new aid supplements will provide some relief to students who genuinely need them. But, we also hope that the administration understands that these supplements will not solve socioeconomic stratification at Yale. This is not just about numbers in bank accounts and bills going unpaid. It is about a toxic culture of inequality that segregates students. The “full” Yale experience we are promised in high-school is not one to which we all have access.
At the close of Monday’s meeting, Yale College Council President Joe English ’17 assured us, “This is not the end game.” We hope he is right.