The Yale College Council has introduced a new stipend to make textbooks more affordable, but questions remain as to whether the measure provides any significant financial assistance to those who need it most.
To be considered for the stipend, students fill out a brief form containing their basic contact information and either their Venmo or PayPal credentials. Completed entries are then entered into a lottery that randomly selects 120 recipients to receive a $50 reimbursement. The policy was inspired by a similar measure adopted by Harvard’s Undergraduate Council to improve affordability outside of the price of tuition.
“Textbooks are incredibly expensive,” YCC Equity Chair Zoe Hsu ’24 wrote in an email to the News. “Although some textbooks are available online for free, many, especially textbooks for language classes, are not. Since many textbooks are not available online and language courses are part of the distributional requirements, students often have no choice but to spend hundreds of dollars on course materials. Moreover, students have faced, and continue to face, additional financial hardships from the pandemic, despite some financial aid adjustments.”
Hsu cited a YCC survey conducted last fall as the rationale behind the stipend. Responding to the prompt “rank what resources you would like to see in your residential colleges in order of priority,” 297 out of 1,180 student responses ranked “free or affordable textbooks” first and another 211 ranked it second.
She also remarked that $50 was no arbitrary choice — it was selected to maximize the number of stipends available while still providing significant financial support.
In response to concerns that the new stipend will come at the expense of more comprehensive measures, YCC Health & COVID-19 Chair Bayan Galal ’23 emphasized that the addition of a stipend will not lead to any existing projects being cut.
“Money for the stipends is coming from YCC’s internal budget,” Galal told the News. “[It] is explicitly not coming from Student Activities Fees, and thus is not taking money from any other causes, events or programming. Instead, it is redirecting YCC’s internal spending towards directly providing resources to the student body.”
As a low-income student herself, Hsu recognizes the unique financial burden that textbooks pose to students with high financial need. The policy was thus designed with these students in mind, but it is not restricted to just low-income students. Due to privacy concerns and acknowledgement that members of the YCC are not equipped to judge the financial situation of their peers, the only measure preventing students from entering the lottery is a note on the form that “kindly ask[s] that students apply for the stipend only if they have a need for it.”
Given the random selection of stipend recipients, several students took issue with the lack of oversight present in this implementation and expressed doubt that the stipend would be awarded to students who actually need it.
“Knowing that college kids will do anything just to get a little bit of spending money, I feel like it wasn’t very well-executed,” Joseph Lee ’24, a low-income student, said. “Although I understand that they’re trying to respect people’s privacy … I just feel like there’s a better way to implement this.”
Lee commented that a more centralized process would result in a fairer distribution of this stipend. He specifically questioned why this process could not be run by the Yale administration to ensure that students’ specific financial circumstances were appropriately considered. He also suggested that funding could be reserved for specific classes and departments with high-cost reading materials, such as language departments.
Students also expressed doubt that a $50 stipend would have a meaningful impact. Mary Quinn Moss ’24 stated that her Directed Studies books for a single semester cost roughly $200, even though she only purchased used books. She remained unconvinced that receiving the stipend would have a significant impact on the affordability of Directed Studies.
Regardless of objections to how the stipend is being implemented, students regarded the policy as a promising sign of the YCC’s support of low-income students. Lee noted that the program seemed “well-intentioned.”
“I think that it’s an admirable initiative in response to a very difficult problem, and I think that this program might go through an adjustment period according to feedback from its first few runs, but I think it’s doing something in the absence of nothing,” Margot Lee ’24 told the News.
YCC members stated that they planned to further support low-income students in the future with similar initiatives and with plans to improve the program in the future. Galal specifically mentioned her hopes to expand the textbook stipend program, both in terms of available stipends and amount of money per stipend.
Entries to the textbook stipend will close on April 7 at 11:59 p.m.
Sean Pergola | email@example.com