Deniz Saip

Through staging protests, getting students to sign petitions and meeting with administrators, members of Students Unite Now have long advocated for Yale to eliminate the student effort portion of financial aid, colloquially known as the student income contribution.

But many Yale officials, including University President Peter Salovey, have repeatedly told the News that Yale will not consider making the elimination of the contribution a goal of its upcoming capital campaign — the University’s next major fundraising push.

In 2017, Salovey told the News that while the upcoming campaign would have goals revolving around helping the University better serve students from low-income backgrounds, Yale would not articulate a goal focusing on a specific area of financial aid policy. At the time, Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said donors would “probably not” be interested in helping fund the elimination of the student effort.

“We tend to talk about financial aid as ‘the financial aid,’ not a subset of ‘the financial aid.’ We don’t break it down,” O’Neill told the News in February 2018. “We talk about making it possible for students to come to Yale from all backgrounds, and people know that Yale is coming up with what the formula is. … The University makes a strategic decision. It’s not the gift that drives how we’re going to make decisions.”

The discussion around eliminating the student effort has long remained at an impasse, in part because the confusion around Yale’s financial aid policies has clouded the conversation. The News interviewed University administrators, financial aid experts and members of Students Unite Now to address the common arguments and counterarguments surrounding the debate on the student effort.

Student effort is the sum of “student share” and “on-campus employment option,” according to a YaleNews report. Student share — the amount that the University expects students can earn through summer employment — is currently set at $1,600 for first years and at $2,600 for upper-level students with standard levels of need. The student campus employment option — the amount the University expects a student could earn through work-study — is $2,850 for first years and $3,350 for upper-level students who do not come from “high-need” families.

The Yale financial aid letter divides expenses into two categories — billed and unbilled. Billed expenses cover tuition, room and board and are paid directly to Yale. Unbilled expenses are Yale’s estimates for additional costs associated with the University education, such as books, supplies and personal expenses. They are not paid to Yale. Most of the money earned as part of student effort goes towards covering unbilled expenses.

Still, a perhaps easier way of understanding how the student effort works is looking at expenses from the perspective of the bill, rather than the numbers stated in the financial aid letter. The University expects most returning students receiving financial aid to contribute $5,950 yearly toward their education. That money first goes to cover unbilled expenses, but if Yale’s estimates of a student’s unbilled expenses are lower than $5,950, the difference is paid directly to Yale. Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes said that for the 2018–2019 academic year, Yale estimated that an average student would spend $3,750 on books and personal expenses, excluding airfare.

Wallace-Juedes said that since he assumed his position 18 months ago, he has been surprised that there is what he called a “widespread misconception” that Yale requires students on financial aid to directly pay the University the amount of their student share, explaining that there is no set amount of the student effort that ends up being annually directly paid to Yale.

Regardless, SUN member Hannah Lee ’20 said the University should eliminate the student effort because it divides students along the lines of race, class, ability and documentation status.

Carlos Rodriguez Cortez ’21, another SUN member and a staff reporter for the News, said that the student effort was “a completely unnecessary burden” on first-generation low-income students “who often are already struggling financially on this campus.” He added that the money students end up paying to Yale could be used toward other activities, including legal fees that undocumented students, such as Rodriguez Cortez, incur.

He stressed that student effort was “essentially a way to keep Yale elitist and low-income students down.”

“[Universities] can use whatever formula they want for their own [financial aid],” said financial aid expert Sandy Baum, a nonresident fellow at the Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “If they want to be more generous — and Yale can afford to be — they can lower the amount students are expected to contribute out of earnings. Many low-income students have to use their earnings to help their families so it is difficult for them to also contribute to their own support.”

But Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan told the News that adjusting financial aid awards to eliminate student effort is not as easy “as simply pulling more money out of the endowment.”

He said that the endowment currently supports just over half of the annual undergraduate financial aid budget.

“The endowment is not a bank account; it is made up of hundreds of smaller funds, many with unbreakable indentures that prevent it from covering the full cost of a Yale education for all students,” he said.

Quinlan also cited a 2016–17 study conducted by the Student Employment Office and said Yale students with campus jobs worked just four hours per week on average, while students on financial aid worked five hours per week.

Students on financial aid were only slightly more likely to hold an on-campus job compared to their peers who don’t receive any aid, Quinlan said. He added that 59 percent of undergraduates held an on-campus job that year.

“Most students work whether or not they are on financial aid,” Baum said. “The reality is that even with generous financial aid such as that at Yale, the financial gap between high- and low-income students on campus is huge. Some wealthy parents give their kids bottomless bank accounts. Others may just pay tuition, fees, room and board and expect their kids to work to earn their own spending money. But low-income students just can’t keep up with the lifestyles of their classmates. These differences are not fair. But on the other hand, it’s not unreasonable to think that students should make some contribution to their own expenses.”

Wallace-Juedes said that to his knowledge, no school with full need-based financial aid has eliminated the student effort. For example, financial aid policies in many of Yale’s peer institutions — including Harvard, Stanford and Columbia — require students to pay something similar to Yale’s student effort. Harvard undergraduates on financial aid are expected to earn between $4,600 to $5,600 per year, while for Stanford students, the amount is at least $5,000 per year, and Columbia students are expected to earn around $5,490.

In an email to the News, Salovey emphasized that the University allocated more than $160 million for undergraduate financial aid this year to make Yale affordable for all students.

“I have also been impressed with the more than three years of policy enhancements and initiatives generated by Provost Ben Polak’s Financial Aid Working Group, which regularly convenes senior Yale officials to connect with current students, members of the Yale College Council, and financial aid professionals to review the university’s financial aid policies,” Salovey wrote.

Wallace-Juedes added that any student who is concerned about meeting “their cost” can meet with a counselor at the financial aid office. He said that the office will “always do everything possible to help families who are facing financial challenges find solutions.”

But Lee said that while additional measures to support low-income students are necessary and important, the student effort will “continue to divide students until it is eliminated.”

Students Unite Now member Naomi D’Arbell Bobadilla ’21 told the News that the organization has collected over 1000 letters from Yale undergraduates asking Yale administrators to attend their town hall Feb. 28, where they will be able to hear firsthand how the student income contribution has affected students.

“We hope they attend,” she said.

Despite being invited, Salovey has already declined to attend the town hall, according to Students Unite Now. When asked why he decided not to come to the event, Salovey did not respond to a request for a comment.

Yale adopted need-blind admissions in 1966.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu 

Skakel McCooey | skakel.mccoey@yale.edu