Tenzin Jorden, Staff Photographer

During the 2021-2022 school year, resources for first-generation and low-income students have expanded on campus, but many are still left searching for community and belonging. 

Four major developments have been made to financial aid this year — the student income contribution was eliminated, Yale began covering marginal taxes for international students, a child care subsidy for Yale College students with dependents was put in place and Yale committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for Eli Whitney students. As the class of 2026, which includes the second highest number of Questbridge matches in University history, prepares to enter the ivy-encased walls of Yale, its first-generation low-income, or FGLI, students will be welcomed with these new supports while faced with old challenges. 

“Navigating these daily decisions about finances and trying to figure out Yale’s hidden curriculum — the unwritten rules, expectations, and processes by which students access all aspects of their Yale education — places additional emotional, cognitive, and time burdens on first-generation and low-income students that can never be fully eliminated by university support,” Associate Director of Writing & Tutoring at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning Karin Gosselink wrote in an email to the News. 

In October, Yale College announced the elimination of what students colloquially call the student income contribution, though the Office of Financial Aid does not employ this terminology. The student income contribution was a portion of unbilled expenses that exceeded what University expected students to pay as a part of their “student share.”

Financial aid officers estimate the student share based on how much money students could financially contribute to the cost of attendance through summer or year-round work. All students are estimated to have to contribute $3,700 for books and other unbilled expenses. Those receiving full financial aid — whose family income is less than $75,000 — had this fee included in their need-based aid. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, the financial aid office will eliminate this fee for all students on financial aid. 

The elimination of the student contribution, which will take effect for the class of 2026, came as a victory for student activists and specifically the student advocacy group Students Unite Now who had been fighting for this change for a decade. 

“I’ll be able to keep what I earn during the semester and the summers and put it toward savings and mutual aid,” Patrick Hayes ’24 wrote to the News. “This is meaningfully helpful for me — Yale is effectively putting an additional $2,250 in my pocket each year, which means a lot.”

SUN continues to advocate for the elimination of the $3,700 part of the student share, which still requires students to come up with funds for books, travel, laundry and other personal expenses.  

In conjunction with the student income contribution elimination, the University announced it would immediately begin covering the marginal tax rate for international students who receive scholarships that exceed tuition. This allows excess scholarship funds to go to costs such as room, board and personal expenses, instead of United States scholarship taxes. The change came after advocacy and recommendations by the YCC Financial Aid Task Force.

“With Yale covering the tax burden for all four years, the financial aid office fixes an important leak in international students’ financial aid packages,” Sammy Landino ’21, who led the task force, wrote in an email to the News. “These reforms also clarify part of the financial aid office’s philosophy: If you get aid, it’s because we’re trying to help you make the most of your time at Yale. As far as I’m concerned, covering the tax burden is a huge step in the right direction.”

In addition, strides to financially support Eli Whitney students have made in the past year. 

Also in October, the University revealed they would be immediately implementing a child care subsidy for Yale College students, the same as already in place for students in the Graduate School of Art and Sciences. The subsidy will provide almost $5,000 each year for students with at least one child under the age of 13, and an additional $1,000 per child under the age of six. 

Although the program was not directly formed for Eli Whitney students, this group will likely benefit greatly, as about 25 percent of those in the Eli Whitney program have children under the age of 18.

One month later, in late November, Yale announced they would fully meet demonstrated financial need for Eli Whitney students, providing them with the same financial aid opportunities as given to traditional undergraduate Yale College students. 

“I am delighted that Yale is increasing the financial support for these remarkable undergraduates,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan told the News. “We emphasize to all prospective and current students that the mission of the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid is to ensure that cost is never a barrier between any undergraduate student and their education. This meaningful policy change helps us advance that mission.”

Yet, for many FGLI undergraduates, navigating campus, despite these financial accommodations, comes at a cost. FGLI students have explained to the News that they often feel disconnected and isolated from their peers — from discussions about childhood upbringings to not being able to afford experiences others take for granted in everyday student life.

While some other students order take out regularly from restaurants, purchase daily cups of coffee, and take trips over break, these are realities many FGLI students cannot afford. 

According to a lawsuit filed in January alleging that the 568 Presidents Group — a consortium of Yale and other top universities that share financial aid calculations — have violated federal antitrust law by considering financial need in admissions, 69 percent of Yale undergraduates come from the top 20 percent of the income distribution, while only 2.1 percent come from the bottom 20 percent. These numbers, however, come from the 2013 graduating class, and have likely since changed. 

“Being around other friends that truly understand what it means to feel limited because of money, but also just live a different lifestyle because of the ways that we were raised, that’s a sense of community,” Suzanne Brown ’23 said. “Anyone from any affinity group, if you read the number that you’re only 2 percent of the population, especially in an insular community like Yale, that’s going to feel alienating in some way.”

Yet, for many students, the FGLI community in itself feels fractured. Over the years, the FGLI student body has diversified, but with this diversity the lines have also blurred for who qualifies as first-generation and low-income and who does not. Despite some organized efforts, some students feel there is a lack of cohesion between FGLI students as a whole. Some advocate for a physical space on campus, like a cultural house or the Women’s Center, as a possible solution.

Through programs like First Year Scholars at Yale, student organizations such as the Yale FGLI Advocacy Movement and students’ own interactions with each other, many are able to find a community on campus, even if its just between friends from similar backgrounds, where FGLI students support and uplift each other.

“FGLI is not something I’m ashamed about,” Tammy Chung ’24 told the News. “Sometimes, in a way, when I say I’m FGLI, [I know it means] I didn’t pull any strings to get to Yale. I worked my ass off.”

Invitations for the FGLI First-Year Peer Mentorship Groups will be sent out before classes begin in August. 

Tigerlily Hopson covers diversity and inclusion at Yale. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Berkeley majoring in English.