The idea of a “sliding scale” to determine the expected summer contribution for students on financial aid is on the table, but questions remain about its feasibility.
At a town hall meeting in December, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan and Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi announced that the student summer income contribution — earnings from a summertime job that aid recipients are expected to contribute toward their tuition — would drop from $4,050 to $2,700 for students with the “highest need” as defined by the University and to $3,600 for all other students. Previously, the expected contribution had been the same for all students. While students were generally pleased that the expectation decreased, some have questioned the seemingly arbitrary divide of students on financial aid, asking if the University would consider implementing a sliding scale based on varying levels of need, similar to the way Yale’s financial aid packages are assembled. Yale College Council President Joe English ’17 said establishing a sliding scale is one of the YCC’s more immediate goals in conversations with University administrators this semester over financial aid policy reform.
“[A sliding scale] just makes more sense,” English said. “It’s more efficient if you use a sliding scale just like the regular financial aid process. You don’t lump people into categories and have set awards. You evaluate the person’s entire financial situation.”
But the idea of a sliding scale presents logistical challenges. For this academic year, Storlazzi said, the student summer income contribution was calculated by considering each student’s actual income and comparing it with established minimums based on national student summer income averages. The calculation looks only at student income and not family income, and Storlazzi said there is no suitable way to establish a sliding scale without looking at family income as well. And if the Office of Financial Aid did look at family income, the contribution could actually go up for some students: Storlazzi said allowing the number to float could result in a potential range from $0 all the way up to $5,000 for upperclassmen on financial aid whose families made comparatively more money, although he emphasized that the numbers were just estimates.
Neither Storlazzi nor Quinlan ruled out the idea of a sliding scale, though Quinlan declined to comment on the idea specifically as discussions about the student efforts for the 2017–2018 academic year have not yet begun.
Still, Storlazzi noted that the idea “may not be practical.” He added that the idea for a sliding scale has not yet been discussed among other University officials, who he said will need to review it carefully before deciding whether it is feasible.
In addition, Storlazzi said, depending on the range established, a sliding scale could impose an additional cost to the University budget, and administrators at Student Financial Services would have to spend more time analyzing and verifying each student’s financial situation. Staff columnist for the News Tyler Blackmon ’16, who co-authored a YCC report last January that called for the complete elimination of the student summer income contribution, disputed Storlazzi’s claim that calculating a sliding scale would be complicated, arguing that financial aid administrators could easily correlate an expected summer contribution to the existing expected family contribution. He added that doing so would require little additional staff time. He also said that under a sliding scale model, costs for students could be kept from going up by increasing the University’s financial aid budget.
“Ultimately, students should continue to demand that the financial aid budget increase to make Yale more accessible,” Blackmon said. “Any switch to a sliding scale should be accompanied by an increase in aid.”
He added that the outrage about the student summer income contribution has not been about the cutoff amounts, but rather the fact that it still exists at all.
Still, English was hopeful that students and administrators could work out the details.
“I don’t think any of us think it’s insurmountable,” English said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction that we are differentiating students with higher need from students with regular need. [Quinlan and Storlazzi] are certainly open to negotiating a sliding scale.”
Representatives from the YCC working group on financial aid will continue to meet with administrators this spring and there will be another open forum like the one held in December.
This year, the total student effort — the sum of the student summer income contribution and earnings from a term-time job — is $4,475 for freshmen and $6,400 for upperclassmen.