Among cheers, snaps and applause, students shared personal stories of the hardships they said they endured because of the student effort portion of financial aid — colloquially known as the student income contribution — during a Students Unite Now town hall on Thursday.
The town hall was held at Linsly-Chittenden Hall and drew around 200 attendees. At the event, students talked about their experiences fulfilling the student effort, and argued that the student effort forces them to choose between taking opportunities that would further their career options and interests and making enough money to pay off the student effort. Many said that they felt Yale did not care enough about low-income students’ needs.
“I don’t need a guacamole bar at Silliman College for dinner,” said Abeyaz Amir ’22 while airing his grievances about how Yale spends its money. “I don’t need an ice sculpture. I need Yale to pay for my books!”
Student effort is the sum of the “student share” — the amount the University expects students can earn through summer employment — and the “on-campus employment option” — the amount the University expects to earn through work-study — according to the financial aid website. It is the amount of money Yale expects students themselves to contribute to their education yearly, according to Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes. The student effort for most upper-level students with standard levels of need is $5,950 per year, and most of this amount is not paid directly to Yale, but rather used to pay unbilled costs such as textbooks and travel to-and-from Yale.
After Hannah Lee ’20 and Julia Salseda-Angeles ’19 — the SUN members who moderated the event — gave their initial statement, they opened the floor to students who shared their stories.
Several students at the town hall said that holding campus jobs has prevented them from taking care of their mental health. Jordan Young ’21 said in his speech that having to work to fulfill the student effort portion of his aid adds to the anxiety of life at Yale.
“There is no time to breathe on this campus,” Young said. “Is it so wrong for me to want to be able to breathe?”
Other students highlighted that finding campus jobs that pay well enough and allow them to work enough hours to fulfill the student effort has prevented them from finding jobs that align with their interests and academic or professional goals.
Karissa McCright ’21 said that she recently had to give up a paid lab position in favor of a dining hall job because the lab job did not offer her enough hours, and working both jobs would put her over the weekly campus work limit of 19 hours.
“My suitemate … presented me with this radical idea that my student contribution is me,” McCright said. “Yale is Yale because of its students, not because of professors. How am I supposed to be a student when I’m working 17 hours a week? How am I supposed to be competitive for medical school when I’m not working in a lab?”
Speakers at the town hall also pointed out that having to work a campus job limits students’ extracurricular opportunities. Nash Keyes ’21, a student who does not have to fulfill student effort and holds leadership positions in several LGBTQ student organizations, said that they often see other LGBTQ students “disengaging” or scaling back their community involvement because those students need to commit time and energy to working a job. Keyes added that they find it “ridiculous to further divide [the] already marginalized [LGBTQ] community along lines of race and class.”
Still, in between the various criticisms of the contribution and its effects, Leland Stange ’19, who is also a staff columnist for the News, took the podium to speak about potential methods that he believes SUN could use to better communicate with administrators about student concerns. He stressed that instead of pushing for an “end to the student income contribution,” students should advocate for the financial aid office to “increase stipend payments for students” — which he called the true core of the concerns students are raising.
Despite being invited to the event, University President Peter Salovey declined to attend the town hall, according to Students Unite Now.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan said that although he was unable to attend the event, he has “extended an invitation to meet with several small groups of students” who have expressed concerns about Yale’s financial aid policies.
“Based on experience, I have found these meetings to be a more productive venue for hearing student stories and discussing the specifics of Yale’s aid policies,” he said.
He also reiterated that the best way for students to discuss their concerns is to speak with a financial aid counselor. He explained that counselors do “everything possible to help families who are facing financial challenges find solutions.”
In a statement to the News provided before the event, Quinlan highlighted several “actionable policy proposals” made through the work of the Yale College Council together with Provost Benjamin Polak’s Financial Aid Working Group, such as “start-up grants, free hospitalization insurance coverage and reductions in Student Effort.” Earlier in February, the Undergraduate Financial Aid Office also changed the language on financial aid award letters to make it clearer.
“I think one of the most interesting things about this experience is that so many students on financial aid and not on financial aid are deeply and personally invested in … creating an equitable [Yale] experience,” said Yale College Council President Sal Rao ’20, who attended the event. “So students who have the luxury of not worrying about SIC still showed up to support so many of their peers. Student attendance is a litmus test [of various] … initiatives on campus. The fact that so many students were interested in this town hall and tuned-in on Facebook … indicates a lot of student interest.”
Rao said that it is the YCC’s responsibility to act as the liaison between the students and the Yale administration. Going forward, she said she wanted to work with SUN to better “bridge the gap” and make progress in an actionable sense.
Yale adopted need-blind admissions in 1966.
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Correction, March 1: A previous version of this story stated that Salovey was not available to comment on why he did not attend SUN’s town hall. In fact, Salovey was never contacted for this story. Rather, he was unavailable to comment on why he did not plan to attend the event for a previous story.