Light & Verity

New efforts to find, support low-income students

A “start-up fund” for essentials, and a smaller student contribution.

The undergraduate admissions office is working to attract more low-income applicants. View full image

Bringing socioeconomic diversity to Yale College has been a priority for the undergraduate admissions department in recent years, with some success: the proportion of Pell Grant recipents in Yale College has risen by 36 percent in the last four years, and the proportion of first-generation college students by 27 percent.
But a recent study of students at American colleges, based on data from millions of anonymous federal tax returns, suggests that the university has a lot of room for growth. The study, by the Equality of Opportunity Project, found that for students born in 1991, 18.7 percent of Yale College’s US students are from families with incomes in the top 1 percent (more than $630,000 per year); 16.3 percent had incomes in the bottom 60 percent (less than $65,000 per year). By comparison, Harvard had 15.1 percent in the top 1 percent and 20.4 percent in the bottom 60 percent, and Princeton had 17.0 percent in the top 1 percent and 13.6 percent in the bottom 60 percent.

Yale recently announced three new measures to attract lower-income students and help them succeed once they enroll: reducing the student income contribution (the amount financial-aid students are expected to earn during the summer in order to help fund their education); offering low-income first-years a “start-up fund” to help pay for expenses related to college; and cofounding the American Talent Initiative, a collaborative network of 30 colleges and universities aiming to “expand access and opportunity for highly talented lower-income students.”

The university’s decision to reduce the student income contribution (SIC) came less than a year after an informal coalition called Students Unite Now began protesting the requirement. Their slogan of choice, “We Contribute,” emphasized the additional burden placed on those who must work term-time and summer jobs in order to make up for the extra expense. “For many students, myself included, the effects of the SIC are not fully realized until after our first year, when we lose our outside nonrenewable scholarships,” says Adrian Rivera ’20. “The SIC adds unnecessary stress to students who are more likely coming from backgrounds that cannot provide financial support.” Yale has reduced the summer portion of the student effort from $3,050 to $1,700 for those with the highest need, and to $2,600 for all other recipients of financial aid.

The start-up fund, which was launched last fall, gave 60 low-income students from the Class of 2020 a $2,000 stipend to cover personal expenses such as computers and winter clothes. Additionally, all recipients attended a financial literacy training session at the beginning of the academic year.

While not a direct beneficiary of Yale’s start-up fund, Susie Beyl ’20 has received additional scholarship funding from outside Yale for nonacademic incidentals. “I have actually greatly benefited from similar initiatives,” says Beyl. “My winter boots didn’t have enough traction for icy walks to class, so I bought grips for them with my student credit.”

The American Talent Initiative, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, hopes to increase enrollment of lower-income students at 270 colleges and universities from 430,000 to 480,000 by 2025. The 30 member schools will work together to identify, recruit, admit, and support such students. “We are looking forward to sharing Yale’s best practices with the group and learning more about how other institutions are developing strategies to enroll more high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds,” says Jeremiah Quinlan ’03, dean of undergraduate admissions.

With Yale College set to expand by 15 percent beginning with the Class of 2021, the number of lower-income students is likely to increase next year. Yale “will apply the same generous need-based aid principles to all students in the college,” says Caesar Storlazzi, university director of student financial services and chief financial aid officer. “Since the number of students on financial aid will increase, we have anticipated and projected the institutional scholarship budget needed to support the increased numbers of students on aid.”

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