Tim Tai, Photography Editor

Most undergraduate students have probably never heard of Yale’s “Office of Federal and State Relations,” the lobbying arm of the University.

But throughout the year, as students are in class, Yale lobbyists meet with government officials to promote policies of special interest to the University. As one of the biggest employers in the state of Connecticut and a core driver of economic activity in New Haven County, Yale has an outsized influence on the policies state and federal representatives champion in Hartford and Washington. 

“Yale advocates on issues that bear directly on the University’s ability to pursue its central missions in education, research and scholarship, and community service,” Richard Jacob, Associate Vice President for Federal and State Relations and a former White House official, told the News.

The Office of Federal and State Relations maintains working ties with many government officials — especially those who are alumni of the University — to influence legislation. Yale’s tax-exempt status, though, forbids it from engaging in partisan activity. The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 requires the University to release quarterly lobbying reports made public through the Secretary of the Senate. 

The University’s current lobbying focuses include student aid, research funding, regional development subsidies and international student support.

Financial aid

One of the University’s primary lobbying goals is to increase state and federal funding for student financial aid. 

The federal government provides educational funding to U.S. citizens and permanent residents with significant financial need through entitlement awards like Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Currently, approximately one in five Yale undergraduates receives a Pell Grant — up nearly 50 percent from five years ago.

Likewise, the State of Connecticut provides entitlement grants, like the Governor’s Scholarship, to state residents.

Jacob called financial aid “one of Yale’s top priorities,” and the University has joined other colleges and universities to push for an increase to the maximum Pell Grant.

To be eligible for government entitlement funding, students must demonstrate financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Some state grants  require additional applications and/or school nomination.

On March 15, 2022, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which increased the maximum Pell award to $6,895 for 2022-23, a 6 percent increase from last year’s $6,495.

“I am encouraged that Congress and the Administration have increased the maximum Pell Grant by 9 percent over two years and are committed to similar growth in the coming years,” University President Peter Salovey said.

From March 2021 to March 2022, the Consumer Price Index increased 8.5 percent, meaning that this year’s maximum grant may end up being lower than last year’s in real terms. Nominal grant increases over the last few years may be similarly deceptive, since inflation rates have been climbing since the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020.

Jacob told the News that grant appropriations in President Biden’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget marks “a significant step” toward the University’s goal of doubling the maximum Pell Grant.

“Pell Grants represent a small but integral share of grant aid within Yale College, and the broad-based campaign to raise the cap on Pell Grants will benefit students across the country,” Jacob wrote in an email to the News.

The proposed budget included plans to double Pell disbursements by 2029, starting with an increase of nearly $2,000 for the 2023-24 award year.  The proposal also included $88.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education — a 17 percent increase from 2022 — with $26.3 billion devoted to federal student aid programs.

The federal government is currently operating under a short-term appropriation plan that will expire on December 16, so the president and congressional leaders will need to iron out a spending agreement within the next week, a key task in this post-election lame duck session.

Final budget allocations remain elusive, though Republicans have demanded significant spending cuts to the President’s original proposal.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have each recommended a $500 increase in the maximum Pell Grant for 2023-24, significantly less than Biden’s original proposal.

“The University supports the $500 increase in the maximum grant proposed by the House of Representatives as well as the Senate,” Jacob told the News.

At the state level, the University is lobbying for increased need-based grant funding, but Yale itself does not accept state funding. Salovey said that the University hopes “to leave more for other schools” and supports efforts to expand the “limited state funding for need-based scholarships.”

Yale is one of just a few universities that meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need under a need-blind admissions policy.

After determining each student’s financial need, the Financial Aid Office takes account of external funding, like federal Pell Grants, and calculates the remaining amount required to meet that need.

In January 2022, plaintiffs in Illinois filed a class-action complaint against Yale and 15 other top Universities for allegedly colluding to limit financial aid. The lawsuit argued that the schools created a price-fixing cartel to unfairly reduce student aid packages.

Under federal antitrust law, specifically Section 568 of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994, universities can only collaborate on financial aid if they practice need-blind admissions. The January suit claimed that some schools in the so-called “568 Presidents Group” — not including Yale — practice need-aware admissions, therefore rendering the entire group ineligible for the antitrust exemption.

In February, though, an amended complaint directly accused Yale of practicing need-conscious admissions. Yale and other universities in the 568 Presidents Group filed several motions to dismiss the suit, but federal judge Matthew Kennelly denied the motions in August, allowing the case to move to trial.

In the past, Yale has lobbied to maintain the 568 antitrust exemption; the University declined to comment on these efforts.

Research funding

Yale is also lobbying for increased government funding for research and scholarship in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, arts and humanities.

“I am pleased that the Senate has proposed a 17 percent [budget] increase for the National Science Foundation,” Salovey wrote in an email to the News. “I also take comfort that Congress and the Administration have over the past two years grown the National Endowments for Arts and Humanities by 11 percent and Title VI international and area education funding by 7 percent.”

Congress has proposed an over-8 percent increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities this year. Additionally, Yale and peer research universities are urging Congress to meet the goals set in the CHIPS and Science Act, the bipartisan competitiveness bill enacted in early August.

According to Jacob, the actions taken so far in Congress suggest that the National Science Foundation, which Congress instructed to play a larger role in economic development, will grow by at least 9 percent this year.

Jacob said that organizations like the NSF, NEH and NIH are “indispensable as sponsors of research and scholarship” at Yale and research universities across the country.

 “By advocating for higher levels of funding for these agencies, universities hope to increase the pool of funds available for competitively awarded grants for research and scholarship,” Jacob told the News.

Local and state economic development 

Yale is also working with both elected officials and industry leaders to drive economic development efforts in New Haven and the surrounding region.

“We also must work together with partners in the private sector and state government to create a climate that is favorable to a healthy and inclusive local and state economy,” Salovey told the News. “For example, we are supporting efforts to use the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to enable meaningful improvement to rail service between New York and New Haven.”

For years, Yale has been working with The Metropolitan Transportation Authority to increase the volume and quality of rail service to and from New Haven.

According to Jacob, in addition to supporting the local economy, rail service is important for the “many members of the Yale community who prefer to commute by train.”

“Faster and more frequent commuter rail will expand the number of jobs that are accessible to local residents, and it will expand the talent pool available to local businesses,” Jacob wrote in an email to the News.

Jacob echoed Salovey’s praise of the November 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which he says will provide critical funds to improve rail service along the Northeast Corridor.

The city of New Haven also stands to benefit from these lobbying efforts.

“There are certainly priorities of mutual interest to both the City of New Haven and Yale University,” Mayor Justin Elicker told the News. “Investments that help catalyze economic growth that create new jobs and opportunities for New Haven residents are win-wins. We’re glad that Yale is also advocating for these important issues that help make New Haven an even more attractive place to live, work, and visit.”

Nevertheless, the University is currently experiencing a significant staffing and retention problem. There are approximately 900 open staff positions, though administrators are “confident” that numbers will soon return to normal levels.

International student support

The University has also been lobbying state and federal lawmakers for policies that ensure international students and scholars can study and work at Yale without unnecessary legal hurdles.

According to Ozan Say, director of the Office of International Students & Scholars, Yale can lobby lawmakers on behalf of international students and scholars, but it can also exert influence through its membership in educational organizations, like the Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education.

“Ensuring that international students and scholars have access to Yale has long been a priority in our advocacy,” Jacob said. “Here, we work to secure federal policies that enable international students and scholars to obtain visas in a timely manner. The University also strives to avoid policies that limit the ability of international students and scholars to participate in some research on campus. In addition, Yale continues to call for a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented students.”

For example, Yale takes action when students or scholars are unable to enter the country because of world events and changes in domestic policy.

Earlier this year, the University was in contact with congressional offices to encourage the use of temporary protected status to facilitate the entrance of Ukrainian students and scholars into the U.S.

In July 2020, the University lobbied to protect international students after the Department of Homeland Security released a directive requiring international students taking online classes to stay out of the United States due to COVID-19.

I am deeply disappointed and troubled that DHS has declined to extend to the coming fall semester the exceptions it provided for this spring and summer,” Salovey wrote in a July 7, 2020 statement.

Later that week, Salovey announced that Yale would be joining other universities in filing an amicus brief in support of a Harvard and MIT lawsuit on the policy. The University also urged state and federal officials to amend the mandate.

Four days later, the Department of Homeland Security withdrew the policy, allowing international students to study remotely in the U.S. once again.

The Office of Federal and State Relations is located at 2 Whitney Avenue.

William Porayouw contributed to reporting in this article.

Evan Gorelick is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Woodbridge Hall, with a focus on the University's finances, budget and endowment. He also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production and Design Editor. Originally from Woodbridge, Connecticut, he is a junior in Timothy Dwight College double-majoring in English and economics.