Perhaps Yale Is Not As Friendly to Low-Income Students As Previously Thought

Yale University freshman Sam Jackson blogged recently about his dissatisfaction with Yale's low-income financial aid practices. Quoting an article that calls Yale's new initiative a "mere public-relations gesture", Sam opines:

Yale needs to work harder and reach out more to low income students. This might not be the fault only of the admissions office, it could be that they are not able to effectively allocate their resources to do so without compromising other parts of their mission which are valued more. Luckily, here at Yale, they don't really have to choose! The university has the resources needed to make significant change, and if it isn't moving up the charts on this, it can't point at Harvard or anyone else and try to avoid blame.

Indeed, Yale commands the second largest endowment of all colleges in the nation ($22.5 billion) and certainly has the ability to help finance the tuition and expenses for low-income students. And though Yale hasn't risen to the 'free college' level that some other universities have, they are making big changes. So why is Sam unhappy with a 230% more financial aid spending (from $24 million to $80 million), a tuition-increase ceiling equal to the rate of inflation, a reduction in expected student contribution, and a slashed cost of attendance for families earning under $200,000? He writes:

Harvard beat them to it. Where is all the innovation? Jeremiah Quinlan, Director of Outreach and Recruitment [for Yale's Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel], could make an MIT-style blogging site if only someone would let him (and give him money, staff, and time). That would be a good transformative start -- a ton of transparency for an admissions office in the Ivy League.

While it is true that Yale saw a 14 percent drop in students receiving Pell grants in the same time period that Harvard saw a 53 percent increase, and while I do agree that more transparency is always good, I can't help but feel that a major source of discontent with Yale's new financial aid policy lies squarely in the fact that Harvard and other colleges -- Ivy League and otherwise -- are also doing it.

So I must disagree with Sam's conclusions. I believe Yale is taking a step in the right direction. Perhaps it has not come quite far enough yet, but it is one of the colleges currently pioneering relief for the skyrocketing costs of higher education. I applaud its efforts thus far. I do, however, share in Sam's hope that the future will bring even more in this area and look forward to the proliferation of the 'free college' ideal.

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Pell grant students would already have been covered: the new financial aid initiative wouldn't affect those numbers in any way except PR, it wouldn't extend any new coverage. Yale was already need-blind. The new FinAid is another step in the very expensive fight with Harvard and others to get top students. Helping higher income students who still get hit by college cost squeezes is great, but it doesn't counteract a lack of outreach at the other end of the spectrum. My words were not about FinAid in general, but rather about low income student recruitment efforts. The money to pay for them to come to Yale has been there for some time now, comparing pell grant family median incomes with yale's past finaid policy.

- Sam Jackson, 02/25/08 at 12:02 pm

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