Why isn’t anyone talking about this financial aid protest at Yale?

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27 students were recently arrested at Yale’s financial aid office while dozens of supporters cheered them on. They were given citations for trespassing and released later that day.

Although the story didn’t get a lot of play, we heard their message loud and clear.

For years, Yale students and faculty have clashed over a financial aid policy called the Student Income Contribution (SIC) or “Student Effort.”

Students who receive financial aid are required to give money to Yale from an on-campus job, like shelving books in the library or serving as a research assistant in a lab.

Yale’s financial aid office defines this arrangement as “the amount a student should anticipate contributing financially from term-time employment.” Effectively, they’re including Student Effort as part of their financial aid package, meaning Yale won’t meet a student’s financial need unless the student works there.

We agree that pursuing higher education, especially at an Ivy League, certainly comes at a price. However, this system seems to contradict its values in at least four ways:

1. It doesn’t match Yale’s “need-blind” promise.

In Yale’s Admissions FAQ, they say, “An applicant’s ability to pay for a Yale education is not considered during the admissions process.” This policy is called “need-blind admission.” Yale says they are “committed to equality of opportunity,” and that need-blind admission “ensures that it will be open to students of personal and academic promise from all segments of society and all parts of the world.”

While a student’s admission status isn’t technically determined by their financial aid application, the Student Income Contribution does affect the educational trajectory of those students. If this university really is “committed to equality of opportunity,” they would let all admitted students focus on their studies, not on their mandatory campus jobs.

2. It unfairly impacts low-income students.

Students are expected to work off anywhere between $2,850 and $3,350 a year, depending on the academic year for which they’re enrolled. But not every job is created equal; for example, an administrative job in the Office of Development offers a salary of $13.00 an hour, while a Banquet Server or Bartender will make $19.82 an hour. This means that depending on the job you have, you might have to work more hours to pay off your requirement.

Photo from Yale Financial Aid.

“For me it has meant working 10, maybe more, hours shelving books at the library when I should be writing a piece or studying for an exam, shelving the books my peers will use to study and enjoy the Yale experience while I scan barcodes,” says Yale student Shaheer Malik.

When you’re in college, it’s hard enough to balance your time and energy between your academics, extracurriculars, social life, and self-care. When you add a mandatory campus job to the mix — and only for low-income students — it becomes unfair. Only the wealthiest at Yale get to fully focus on prospering.

3. It’s unnecessary, especially when you have the endowment that Yale has.

Totaling $27.2 billion on June 30, 2017, Yale’s Endowment is hardly meagre. Spending from the endowment for the 2018 fiscal year is projected to be about $1.3 billion.

There must be at least some wiggle room in the budget to throw these students a bone, especially when the university’s budget for financial aid is around $122 million.

Only ten percent of the annual budget is going towards the financial aid effort. When you have a billion dollars, why would you take time and resources away from the students who need it most?

4. It assumes that students who get financial aid don’t appreciate the opportunity.

Former Yale College Council President Michael Herbert says that the Student Income Contribution helps students “appreciate” their education.

“Its premise is that students should have ‘skin in the game’ for their education, and that ensuring they do is achieved by getting them to pay for Yale by working,” he says.

But Mr. Herbert’s mindset puts the onus on low-income students to literally earn their right to be there. Simply getting accepted to Yale is a remarkable feat that only the best and the brightest are able to accomplish. It isn’t exactly hard to appreciate the opportunities an Ivy League education will present you with, especially when you’re the one who worked so hard to get there in the first place.

Policies like this just burden students instead of tackling the larger problem: our broken financial aid system.

And Yale isn’t the only school that implements a Student Effort policy. Harvard Law, Columbia, Tufts, Williams College, Amherst, and several other schools require low-income students to work on top of earning the same degree as their peers who don’t need financial aid.

So hey, Yale (and every other school that has a similar Student Effort policy): do better by your students. If you choose not to give every student at your institution an equal opportunity to succeed despite having the funds to make it possible, your future alumnae will remember.