At a financial aid town hall in November 2014, when students asked Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi whether Yale would ask financial aid recipients to fulfill a “student effort” requirement if the University could afford not to, Storlazzi spoke of the “inherent value of partnership [with the University] and contributing towards their education” — something students achieve when working campus jobs. But roughly one year later, at another town hall meeting Monday night, Storlazzi offered a different explanation.
At the meeting, Storlazzi and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan announced a $2 million increase in existing financial aid spending to reduce the student summer income contribution — summer earnings that students on financial aid are expected to put toward their tuition — for upperclassmen. During a question and answer session afterward, Storlazzi stated that Yale would completely scrap the contribution were it not for University budget constraints. Students interviewed said administrators have changed their tune since last year, when they told students that there is inherent value in working a job to pay for college, but would not speak to whether they would eliminate the student effort given the opportunity.
“[The student summer income contribution] is regressive,” said former Yale College Council President and staff columnist for the News Michael Herbert ’16. “Its premise is that students should have ‘skin in the game’ for their education, and that ensuring they do is achieved by getting them to pay for Yale by working.”
The idea of “skin in the game” — the notion that in order to fully appreciate their Yale education, low-income students must work to help pay for it — is one that alumni, administrators and members of the Yale Corporation have repeatedly espoused to defend Yale’s maintenance of a student effort expectation, according to YCC President Joe English ’17, who has been a strong proponent of financial aid reform and who helped run Monday’s meeting. At last year’s town hall, though Storlazzi did not specifically defend the idea of students needing “skin in the game,” he did note the value of students connecting to the University through campus employment.
“When students have a job on campus, it helps them connect to the University through administrative offices,” Storlazzi said at last year’s meeting. “It helps with scheduling and helps them have spending money each week.”
In a Tuesday email to the News, Quinlan reiterated the idea that Yale’s financial aid program strives to create a partnership between students, their families and the University, though he did not comment on whether he believes the administration has changed its outlook on the student effort.
Still, Tyler Blackmon ’16, a staff columnist for the News, said the administration told students last year that getting rid of the student summer income contribution was not a budget problem — a direct contradiction of Storlazzi’s remarks on Monday. Blackmon helped author a January YCC report that argued that the student effort expectation creates divergent Yale experiences for wealthy students and those from more needy backgrounds. The report called for the complete elimination of the student effort requirement.
Eleven months after the report’s publication, and after extensive student activism, the summer student income contribution for upperclassmen has now been reduced by $1,350 to $1,700 for students with the “highest need” — about 300 students in total — while the nearly 2,500 other students on financial aid will receive a $450 reduction in the student effort, bringing it down to $2,600. The student employment expectation will remain unchanged, because data shows that students are easily meeting their term-time contributions by working under five hours per week on average, Quinlan said.
Quinlan said the magnitude of the change “made financial sense” for Yale. And Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the News that “for some budget issues such as financial aid, there is a level of detail that needs to be kept quite private.”
But perhaps due to this privacy, there appears to be a disconnect between administrators and students, who feel that Yale could be spending more money on financial aid and should be more transparent about changes to financial aid policy. Students interviewed indicated that there is a widespread perception among undergraduates that Yale has enough resources to completely eliminate the student effort expectation if it so desires.
At the Monday meeting, one student pressed the administrators on the size of the endowment, stating that Yale could be doing more to help its low-income students. Another student, Yamile Lozano ’17, said afterward that the perception that Yale has plenty of money to spend comes from Yale’s $25.6 billion endowment. Lozano said although Yale has the lowest net cost of attendance nationally, such statistics are irrelevant because the student income contribution creates inequality between students.
University Provost Ben Polak, who was heavily involved with the policy changes and presented the final proposals to University President Peter Salovey earlier this year, did not comment on the feasibility of eliminating the student summer income contribution. Polak said only that a group of administrators meets regularly throughout the summer and early fall each year to analyze financial aid policy and make recommendations to the president. Monday’s changes were a result of those meetings, as well as the YCC report on financial aid last spring, Polak added.
Holloway also did not address questions about whether Yale can eliminate the student summer income contribution. But he said that after conversations with administrators about making Yale entirely tuition-free, it has become clear that if Yale became free for everybody, “Yale as we know it could not exist.”
Still, Herbert said Yale administrators should hold a town hall or information session explaining to students the motivation behind the University’s endowment practices and resource allocation. Such a town hall meeting is imperative as Yale’s institutional practices become increasingly controversial, he added. Monday’s town hall introduced the financial aid policy changes, but Quinlan and Storlazzi did not explain the rationale for the particular changes beyond stating that they were what the University could afford.
Peter Huang ’18, who attended the Monday town hall, said he was disappointed by the lack of definitive answers from Quinlan and Storlazzi. He said he would have appreciated a more explicit plan for working toward eliminating the student summer income contribution.
“I understand that [eliminating the student summer income contribution] is not an initiative that can be implemented immediately,” Huang said. “But I would have enjoyed hearing about some steps to take toward that, and all we were able to hear was that they did not have the final say about that.”
However, English remained hopeful that further changes could be achieved. After the meeting on Monday, he told the News he has already scheduled further meetings with administrators to discuss financial aid, noting that these policy changes are long-term and may take several years to achieve.
“Especially when you’re dealing with money at Yale, the process is long-term,” he said. “The whole YCC [is] very dedicated to making sure none of these issues are falling through the cracks.”
The University’s current budget for financial aid is $122 million.