The list of steps that the Yale administration could take to better support working people on campus and in New Haven is long. Yale should agree to a union election free from intimidation for graduate teachers and researchers. They should protect the good jobs in my union, Local 35 UNITE HERE, the union of service and maintenance workers, and our sister union, Local 34, from cuts and outsourcing. Yale should continue to lead on solving New Haven’s jobs crisis. The list goes on. But in the long lineup of things that Yale can and should do, one thing is particularly straightforward. Yale should eliminate the student contribution for undergraduate students on financial aid.
This should be an easy one. Students across campus have been vocal about the need for the contribution to be eliminated. They have made clear that by making students on financial aid pay the contribution, the administration creates two different and not at all equal Yale educations. Students on financial aid are forced to make tough choices and to pass up opportunities available to their peers who are not on financial aid. They have to find jobs and work enough hours to earn $3,350 every school year, in addition to the $2,600 they’re required to pay in the summer, for a total of $5,950 per year. Or they are forced to take out loans to cover these payments and start their lives after college in debt.
As a parent, I’ve seen what it looks like to have your child face that decision. My son took out loans to finance his college education. He graduated from college burdened by student debt, and he is still working to pay it off. In these tough economic times, young people already face major hurdles to getting a good job and achieving financial stability. Yale could do better than to weigh down its students further with debt.
Students on financial aid have to make difficult choices every day in order to meet Yale’s demand for this contribution. But for the administration, there should be nothing difficult about solving this problem. Last fiscal year, the Yale endowment broke records and surpassed $25 billion. Yale makes an average of $10 million every day in investment returns. Eliminating the student contribution entirely for all students would cost the University less than two days’ endowment earnings.
Put a different way, in the last fiscal year the endowment earned an average of $6,658 every minute. Meanwhile, the administration requires that students on financial aid pay $5,950 each year. For Yale to earn the same $5,950 that it currently takes from its students on financial aid each year would take approximately 54 seconds per student. As I said, this should be an easy one.
So why is it that the Yale administration refuses to resolve this problem? Their refusal to hear the voices of students on this campus and respond with substantial changes in financial aid policy is not a matter of budgetary difficulty. It is simply a matter of priorities.
As a second-generation worker who has been here at Yale for 40 years, I have seen how workers and students standing together can shift this institution’s priorities.
There is a long history of undergraduates and workers fighting alongside one another to make this campus a better place. Throughout our union’s 75 years of fighting for working people at Yale and in New Haven, students have stood by us. Our union has been strengthened by the support of students who know that Yale can do better. We are grateful for your support. And we will stand together with you in your fight for financial aid reform until the Yale administration decides to change its priorities.
Bob Proto is the president of Local 35 UNITE HERE. Contact him at email@example.com .