Yale began the Eli Whitney Students Program in 1982. The program offers an education to students from nontraditional backgrounds who have had a significant break in their schooling. In 2007, the Yale administration piloted significant reforms to the program, opening up a slew of Yale resources to Elis, including their financial aid eligibility. Although the Yale administration has come a long way in making the Eli Whitney Students Program more financially accessible, Elis still face enormous financial pressures that make attending Yale less about education and more about scrambling to procure finances.
To understand the shortcomings of Eli Whitney students’ financial aid plan, it is best to understand the composition of the Eli Whitney Students Program. The Eli Whitney students are a diverse group of around 35 students, about half of whom are veterans. The other half of the students come from a variety of backgrounds — some are political refugees, others, for example, are Lebanese Christians who fled to Israel, still others have begun careers in the state department and are returning to college to complete a degree.
This division within the Eli Whitney Students Program makes calculating financial aid packages difficult. Veterans in the program, for example, can elect to use their GI Bill to pay for college. Elis who don’t use or don’t qualify for the GI Bill are only eligible to receive financial aid packages equal to the full cost of tuition. Yale provides no aid for housing, no stipend for books and no access to a full meal plan.
So the financial aid problem is twofold: 1) Yale’s financial aid plan for Eli Whitney students is simply not comprehensive enough. Elis cannot live on campus, and without the nearly $2,800 monthly housing stipend afforded to vets through the GI Bill, Eli Whitney students are forced to room far away from campus in sometimes squalid housing complexes. 2) Because Yale doesn’t cover the cost of textbooks or school supplies, many Elis who don’t have adequate savings to pay for exorbitantly expensive textbooks have to choose their classes based on which course’s materials are offered online.
With respect to the first point, Yale should offer financial aid to Elis beyond just the cost of tuition. One Eli Whitney student I spoke to in preparation for this article detailed the destitution of affordable off campus housing. He didn’t have sufficient savings to pay for the luxury of Cambridge Oxford Apartments, and instead ended up on Howe Street, renting from a housing management company so negligent, that when he reported the mice he discovered crawling around his apartment, they told him to call and pay for the exterminator himself.
It shouldn’t be controversial to call for housing coverage in Eli Whitney students’ financial aid packages. Yale’s transfer students are eligible to receive financial aid for their housing, as are conventionally admitted low-income students. Elis deserve this aid, too.
The administration has yet to make this change. When I asked Dean Risa Sodi, the director of the Eli Whitney Students Program, about why Elis weren’t eligible to receive housing aid, she told me about the incredible variety within the program, noting that all Elis are allowed to attend Yale part time and that some take fewer credits than others. “Because of this, calculating an appropriate amount of aid for room and board is significantly more complicated for Eli Whitney students than for traditional students.
But it doesn’t have to be. We could, for instance, call for financial aid packages to offer housing aid matching the average housing rental price in New Haven, like the Veterans Affairs office does. With $2,784 a month, Eli Whitney students could afford to live closer to campus and therefore could more fully engage with the Yale community through clubs and extracurriculars. Most importantly, with this kind of aid consideration, Elis wouldn’t have the crushing financial pressure of downtown New Haven housing. Finding a job that would alleviate this pressure is one of the primary reasons Elis have to use their part time student privilege in the first place.
Yale should cover course material costs, too. No one at Yale, whether a low-income student or an Eli Whitney student should have to alter their course selection to accommodate their inability to pay for textbooks. I asked Scott Wallace-Juedes, director of undergraduate financial aid, about this issue and he mentioned that financial aid, including scholarships and term-time work, “is available to cover the full cost of attendance.”
This picture, however, is not so simple. Any scholarship money that Elis receive must be reported so that they will get a corresponding reduction in financial aid. Term-time work might count, but paying for one’s rent, presumably, takes precedent over a $200 textbook.
Ultimately, the problem with the Eli Whitney program is a problem with maladaptation. Jake Fisher ’20, an Eli Whitney student, told me, “Eli Whitney student demographics have changed significantly, but its financial aid rules have been slow to adapt.” In any case, if we accept Eli Whitney students, we ought to treat them as students, both socially and financially.
Sammy Landino is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .