Rahshemah Wise ’22 knows what it’s like to worry about money.
A Computing and the Arts major who came to Yale as a Questbridge Scholar, Wise has spent hundreds of dollars on course fees, materials and computer programs as part of her introductory art classes, she said. But as a low-income student, Wise said that instead of sketchbooks and course fees, she could be spending her money on daily expenses — personal projects, living and travel.
On top of her own financial constraints, Wise said she becomes “really frustrated” when she sees other art students — ones who can afford the mandatory expenses that student financial aid does not cover.
“I didn’t even know if I could afford the semester,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem fair that there’s a class barrier” to the major.
With a growing number of undergraduates on financial aid, those in the Arts major must seek alternate means to cover their introductory art classes. Many turn to residential college art grants, credit card debt or direct requests to Yale’s Office of Financial Aid — all avenues that more affluent students do not have to turn to as a last resort.
For Art major Abeyaz Amir ’22, this difficulty points to a larger problem with Yale’s class gap: that the University reinforces a “culture of privilege.” On Dec. 24, Amir shared a Facebook post detailing his experiences with course prices that has since attracted dozens of reactions, shares and comments.
“I was promised that as an FGLI student at YALE that I would have the resources to fully pursue my intellectual interests,” he wrote. “Art is not a hobby to me! This is my life!”
In an interview with the News, Art Director of Undergraduate Studies Lisa Kereszi said that Amir’s comment “makes her sad.” Kereszi — who was also a low-income student in college — explained that she empathizes with his situation as well as those of students in similar situations. She has pushed for studio space for art majors, urged faculty members to be transparent about course fees and has spread information about financial resources to pay for courses. Kereszi even buys cameras and tripods from thrift shops for students to use.
Kereszi told the News that the School of Art is already operating on a relatively modest, constrained budget. For more money, she said, the University’s administration would have to allocate funds, or the development office would need to court more donors.
“I totally empathize,” she said. “But I can’t make this money come out of air.”
For Wise, who has taken several courses in the Art Department, art supplies can cost more than textbooks because they are consumable — students can’t buy second-hand paint or sketchbooks the same way they can buy used textbooks, she explained. The extra costs Wise and her classmates have to front make her upset, she said, adding that “it’s unfair.”
Wise pointed to a $200 semester charge that junior and senior Art majors must pay. This fee, she said, is not covered by financial aid. And when course fees, art supplies and other costs add up, low-income students are hit the hardest, she added.
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” she said. “It’s frustrating. Yale can afford ice sculptures…asking for $200 from these students isn’t necessary.”
According to the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes, the costs of these art classes and art supplies fall under the unbilled expenses portion of every student’s financial aid package, which includes books, travel and personal expenses. This lump expense of $3,700 allocates $1,000 a year for books and supplies, while the rest goes toward personal expenses, such as eating and jackets.
Some students may spend more or less than the estimated $500 cost of books and supplies per semester based on the courses they take, Wallace-Juedes explained. Even if students spend less than that amount, the financial aid packet does not decrease the total funds offered, he said. But, should students need more funding than the financial aid offer allocates, the office cannot accommodate such demands.
“Generally, just like we don’t decrease, we don’t increase the books and supplies amount,” Wallace-Juedes said. “If a student were to come to us and say my books are actually $750, we aren’t able to provide additional grant assistance, but we can work with students to maybe identify outside scholarships or low-interest student loans that can cover that amount. But in most cases, those are not covered.”
Wallace-Juedes noted that the costs of classes are decided within each department, separate from the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid.
According to Wallace-Juedes, although Yale does not have a lot of courses that require students to pay to enroll, the ones that do are often in the arts because “it’s an expensive sort of career or class to take.”
By Abeyaz’s count on his Facebook post, he will spend over $3,000 “just to be an art major.”
“The art major as it now stands makes it next to IMPOSSIBLE for low-income students to be in the major,” he wrote. “It’s entirely scary and draining and frustrating. Why is the art major barred by such an expensive hurdle?? Unlike basically any other major at Yale???”
Though the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid cannot increase the amount of grants given to a student, Wallace-Juedes said that the Assistant Dean for the Arts Kate Krier has created methods to increase resources, “particularly to low-income students.”
One example is a photography course that can loan cameras to students. Accordingly, the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid is able to put a student in touch with the department or help that department reserve cameras for students with high financial need, Wallace-Juedes said.
“Something the [Yale College Dean’s Office] is working on is this transparency so far as knowing up front as you’re shopping [that] this course has fees you should be aware of it and what they’re used for,” Wallace-Juedes said. “I’ve heard from some students where instructors are saying, yes, this is actually a course fee that you have to pay but it helps bring in lecturers, and it’s helping to subsidize some of your paint or other materials that you would use and consume.”
Indeed, the DUS Kereszi said that these course fees go towards supplies, visiting artists and field trips — all things that would be “a shame” not to have in an undergraduate program, she said. These costs range in price from $25 to $150 and are at the professor’s discretion. Leftover costs, while rare, go toward what Kereszi described as a “massive” subsidy in color printer ink for art students, she said, that costs in the “high tens of thousands.”
“We’re on your side,” Kereszi said. “The problem just has to be worked through and solved.”
When asked about the costs of the Art major, Dean Krier first pointed to a detailed list of financial resources that students can access. Along with the camera loan program, the sheet includes funding options from Creative and Performing Arts Awards and safety net assistance — emergency finances available to students with unexpected financial hardship.
According to Art major Lauren Gatta ’21, estimating the supply costs is often difficult “until you look at the syllabus after the first session and see the mountain of supplies you’re expected to have by the following week.” She added that CPA Awards do not cover course fees, and requires students to put up an exhibit in their college which is extra work should the students need financial help.
Krier wrote that she has seen an uptick in visual art applicants for the CPA. She added this is evidence that her team’s outreach is working.
“I recognize that some of these in-the-moment costs present challenges for students taking art courses and I have been working with Lisa Kereszi and others to provide the help that we can,” she explained. “It does seem that the information is reaching students and helping them connect resources with these needs.”
According to Yale College Council President Kahlil Greene ’21, the concern of costs for art classes is one of the YCC’s “biggest pushes in the previous semester.” The YCC released their report on art course fees this Thursday.
Some potential ideas include a new art supply closet, like the AACC’s Career Closet, as well as increased scholarships for art students’ supplies, similar to what currently exists with Yale’s CPA, Greene said.
Greene noted that though the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid views art course fees similar to textbook costs, “the University’s view on budgeting for these courses and the students in them” must change.
While most textbooks can be found at low prices, a student’s success in an art class depends on the quality, and therefore price, of supplies that each student has, Greene said. In addition to ensuring that students have supplies in the first place, the YCC also hopes to address the disparity in the “quality of work” or “perceived quality by instructors” due to the products one student can afford versus another.
“We are actually very hopeful for this outcome seeing that there is a new Provost that has just been appointed, but it may take a longer time getting through the bureaucratic process of academic/Financial Aid reform,” Greene wrote in an email to the News. “It may just take the right public push/mobilization of students to get the ball rolling faster.”
Another YCC idea includes opening a free community art space that is analogous to the CEID for STEM students.
The Yale School of Art is located at 1156 Chapel Street.
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