Bonding with your group during FOOT, late night meetings with your FroCo, waving a handkerchief marked with your exact class year during the freshman assembly — these are experiences that many find during their first year as an undergraduate at Yale. I didn’t have these experiences, because I, and a handful of other students, didn’t begin my undergraduate education at Yale. As one of the 24 transfers this year (not taking into account the number of new Eli Whitney students), I entered an academic and social fabric that is not accustomed to students from outside the traditional four-year model.
I spent my first two years at a great community college, but nevertheless that school, like many community colleges, faced issues with accreditation, budget cuts and overstretched resources. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to take courses at Yale with renowned faculty members and be surrounded by some of the brightest and most passionate students in the world. But few individuals get to experience the “elite” institutions that have such resources. Ivy League schools, and other similar private institutions, traditionally accept few, if any, transfer students, with Harvard and Yale accepting 15 and 26 transfers in 2012, respectively. Of these accepted students, even fewer come from community colleges, despite the 12.8 million students in the U.S. enrolled at a community college.
The average makeup of the student population at a community college is different than that of an institution like Yale. While 69 percent of individuals at Yale come from households that make over $120,000 a year, over two-thirds of community college students can be classified as low-income, and many tend to be first-generation students, immigrants, returning students or veterans. Yale lacks comparative socioeconomic diversity. This is a gap that transfer students increasingly fill at other institutions such UC Berkeley, where community college transfers make up almost 20 percent of its student population.
With rising college tuition, more students are turning to public institutions to begin their undergraduate education, without realizing that institutions like Yale can provide full funding. In the 21st-century society, Yale has the chance to take a leading role in forging a pathway for high-achieving “nontraditional” students to have the same access to elite institutions. These students could better hone their talents through the breadth of resources available at Yale. Yale, too, would greatly benefit from the diversity of experiences that transfer students provide.
The traditional explanation provided by Ivy League schools and other private universities for why they do not accept, or actively recruit, more transfers is that there is not enough space available. However, with two new residential colleges, Yale will increase its undergraduate population by 15 percent through admitting 200 more students per class. This presents Yale with an opportunity to innovate and take a leadership role in the nationwide effort to tap into the talent and ambition found at community colleges, setting an example for other institutions of similar caliber to follow suit. If Yale does increase its transfer student population, there will be more space available to develop a transfer outreach program. Much like in 2013, when the Office of Undergraduate Admissions launched a new educational campaign “to inform low-income families about the affordability of a Yale College education,” it could consider coordinating a similar effort to reach students at community colleges that would normally never apply.
There are other considerations that go into adopting such a policy: the value of maintaining a traditional four-year experience and larger class sizes, for example. However, like discussions on increasing the number of athletes that Yale can recruit, with Dean Holloway remarking that there will “maybe [be] half a dozen” extra spots for recruited athletes (“New colleges bring potential for growth in athletics,” Nov. 6, 2015), it is still worth considering how to utilize the increased class spaces. Even just increasing the amount of transfers by half a dozen means that six other students, who would never have been able to enter an institution like Yale, now can.
I will never be able to bond with a FOOT or a FroCo group, but earlier this year I made an effort to go to as many Camp Yale events as possible, including the freshman assembly. As I waved a handkerchief marked with a different class year from my own — in celebration of these “bright college years” — I felt as connected as ever to Yale. Even though I’ll never be a full-fledged member of a class that started their undergraduate experience together, meeting students from all different years created a sense of belonging that transcends class levels. That’s something others can have too, regardless of any “four-year experience.”
Ryan Liu is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .