University Diaries
A professor of English describes American university life.
Aim: To change things.
Contact UD at: margaret-dot-soltan-at-gmail-dot-com

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Thursday, February 24, 2005


...and the Yale sit-in story is just beginning to be covered in the press. Here's tomorrow's New York Times:

" Princeton got rid of undergraduate loans four years ago, and today its students on aid graduate with a mere $400 of debt. Harvard no longer asks low-income parents to pay anything, and its application pool broke records this year. But at Yale, students have been waiting, to little avail, for something similarly dramatic to happen.

Yesterday their patience ran out. From morning to night, dozens of students protested in and around the university's admissions office, prompting the staff to lock its doors in the face of some confused parents who had brought their children to tour the campus.

...The student protesters, perhaps 150 in all, said they merely wanted Yale to do what so many of its rivals have already done: scale back, and perhaps even eliminate, the amount that low- and middle-income students have to pay.

At a time when college costs are steadily rising, the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia seem to be racing each other to eliminate loans for larger and larger slices of the low-income population. Rice has started to follow suit, while Brown has eliminated work-study for freshmen and replaced it with scholarships.

"We expect Yale to be a leader on this, not behind everyone else," said Julia C. Gonzales, 21, a senior from Texas.

The protest came less than two days after Yale's president, Richard C. Levin, told an audience of students that he was, in fact, just a few weeks away from making "some serious moves" on the financial aid front, precisely because so many of the university's competitors already had, The Yale Daily News reported.

"We don't want to be left behind," Mr. Levin told the crowd on Tuesday, making a sit-in seem like a waste of energy to some university officials.

Mr. Levin's meeting with students appeared to end so inconclusively that many were just as angry as they had been beforehand, if not more so. In letters to The Yale Daily News yesterday, one student accused Mr. Levin of showing the "utmost of condescension" toward students on financial aid. Another said Mr. Levin had "matter-of-factly dismissed the hundreds of students" who could barely pay tuition.

Yale's undergraduate applications dropped by 1.2 percent for the 2004-05 school year, a notable exception to the double-digit increases experienced by many other Ivy League institutions. Yale officials said the decrease was "insignificant," reflecting nothing more than market fluctuations.

Harvard and Princeton, by contrast, experienced 15 and 20 percent increases respectively in applications for this year, and both credited additional financial aid as a major reason for the increase.

UD salutes the students at Yale, who recognize that with a ten billion dollar plus endowment, their university is perfectly able -- assuming an authentic interest in economic diversity -- to pay the way for smart students who can't afford its outrageous price.

But the student protesters should also be aware that, once Yale does the right thing (and UD is sure it will), there's little chance needier students will apply to the school in significant numbers. If Harvard's experience so far is anything to go by, even offering free tuition to students from poorer backgrounds won't get many of them to apply. (The uptick in applications that the New York Times notes does not include many students from lower middle class homes.) For some reasons why the demographics of the Ivy League are unlikely to change, read Walter Kirn's essay in The Atlantic [also see UD, 1/21/05].