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Covid-19, Admissions and Litigation at Yale
By Lee Bolman

There’s a lot happening on multiple fronts these days.  There’s a lot of good news for Yale, but the university and higher education also face serious challenges.

Covid and the Student Experience

Yale’s policies of extensive testing, mandatory social distancing, and mostly online classes have generally worked to keep Covid-19 infections under control.  There was a spike toward the end of the Fall semester, and another when students returned for the Spring, but the numbers appear to have stabilized at a fairly low level—around 15 new infections/week of late, split about evenly between students and faculty/staff.  Test positivity is running well below 1%. (Full updates and statistics can be found at

Even with the many restrictions on normal college life, students are showing a preference for the on-campus experience.  Many first years, who were invited to campus in the Fall but had to go home for Spring, were sad to leave.  Sophomores, who had to study remotely in the Fall, were mostly delighted to be allowed back on campus for the Spring semester. Juniors and seniors could study on campus both terms. Most did, but some chose to work totally virtual from home. Another small number opted to take a gap year waiting until they were more comfortable returning to campus. Yale worked individually with students on their planning.

There’s a good chance that everyone at Yale who wants a shot will be vaccinated by Fall. If Covid numbers keep declining around the US, it’s reasonable to expect that Fall will bring a return to something closer to normal.  Masks and other forms of social distancing will likely still be mandated, but I expect that all undergraduates will be invited back to campus.  More classes will operate in person, intercollegiate sports will likely return, and students will have more freedom to be with one another in many of the ways that are normal to the college experience.

Admissions, Litigation and Student Demographics

Even in the face of Covid, Yale is seeing strong demand.  Applications are up this year, and early admission was up 38% to almost 8,000.  Yale accepted around 10%, deferred half, and rejected the rest.  In the end, Yale may wind up accepting less than 6% of the total of more than 35,000 applicants.  A complicating factor is the more than 300 students in the class of 2024 who deferred admission.  Yale believes most will want to come in the Fall and that campus rules and procedures will be closer to normal. Regular admissions decisions for the class of 2025 will be announced in early April, which is before students from the other classes may have made their individual decisions. All will be watching the overall Covid-19 data, as well as Yale’s latest statistics.   It’s a major example of the many ways that Covid-19 has disrupted the college experience.

In the same way that the pandemic is hitting poor people harder than the affluent, it’s doing the same thing to weaker universities.  Nationally, colleges have shed about 10% of their work force in the last year, and the carnage continues.  Many institutions will emerge from the pandemic in significant financial difficulty, and will only have a few years to recover before colleges go over a demographic cliff later in this decade when the number of high school graduates will plummet, particularly in the north and east.  But Yale and its elite peers should be fine.

The Biden Justice Department, unsurprisingly, has dropped the lawsuit alleging that Yale discriminates against Asian and white applicants.  But a similar Harvard case (in which Justice is not the plaintiff) is now being appealed to the Supreme Court.  The plaintiffs in that case, “Students for Fair Admissions,” just announced that they plan to sue Yale as well, but the key is SCOTUS and Harvard.  The court could reject the appeal, in which case Harvard wins and Yale will be safe. If the court accepts the appeal, it’s likely that the more conservative current justices want to do more than just reaffirm old precedents.  If the court decides to overrule itself and further restrict universities’ options for race-conscious admissions, it’s a whole new ball game.  Yale and its peers would need to re-think their policies.

The legal pressures reflect the intensifying political battles over access to elite schools, which offer a highly visible, socially-valued good that is seen as playing a major role in sorting students into roles in society.  Considerations of equity argue for finding ways to increase the numbers of talented poor students and students of color, who have the most to gain from a Yale education.  But affluent families have substantial advantages of resources and information in looking for ways to get their kids into elite schools.  The Varsity Blues scandal is a particularly prominent example, but the larger battle for access will continue to be intensely fought.

Yale’s current undergrad population is basically 50/50 men and women, about 10% international students, 54% students of color, and 35% white. Harvard has a similar picture: about the same percentage of students of color, slightly fewer whites but more international students.    Available data suggests that Yale’s student population skews more affluent than Harvard’s.  A majority of Yale students get financial aid, but there is still a significant cohort of families, mostly with family incomes of more than $250,000/year, who are paying the full freight of $77,750/year.

A Historical Note

The Yale Report of 1828 is a famous document in the history of American higher education.  The specific issue was whether to continue to require undergraduates to master both Latin and Greek.  Many argued that Yale needed to evolve with the times and move beyond “dead languages.”  The faculty met and pondered.  They concluded that yes, the curriculum needed to evolve with the times, but the purpose of higher education was to improve students’ thinking, and Latin and Greek were ideal for that purpose. So the requirements remained–until the Civil War disrupted almost everything.

Holding fast to tradition and changing with the times are both basic to who and what Yale is.  Yale no longer maintains that its principal aim is for students “to know God in Jesus Christ and answerably to lead a Godly, sober life,” but it still prints diplomas in Latin that few recipients can decode. We’re in a period of major ferment in the US and the globe, and Yale will continue to evolve while muddling through pressures from every direction.  But it will still be Yale, and I expect that it will still provide future generations what it provided us: a powerful, life-changing educational experience.

We welcome your comments below.

7 comments to Covid-19, Admissions and Litigation at Yale

  • Cory Christopher T.

    Lee— a well-written, enlightening piece. Big news that Yale apparently is more racially integrated(over half the undergrads) than, I believe, the country as a whole. Did I get that right? It would be a massive catch-up for previous centuries. Please do keep reporting on this.
    Warm regards, Chris Cory

  • Larry Price

    Lee: Like Chris, I am fascinated by your comment that the current undergrad population is “54% students of color, and 35% white.” In normal usage, a student of color would be black. But clearly 54% of the student population cannot be black. Therefore, “of color” must mean non-white, and includes Latinos, Asians, and others in addition to blacks. What is the breakdown? Also, white and non-white would seem to cover the waterfront, but 54% and 35% only totals 89%. What is the other 11%?
    Best regards, Larry Price

  • Lee Bolman

    Chris and Larry,

    You both ask good questions. I’m relying on Yale’s data at

    It shows a total of 4703 undergrads: 10% international, 24% Asian-American, 15% Hispanic (which is currently the fastest-growing group among American college students), 9% African-American, 6% two or more races, and 35% white. Overall, it’s almost equally divided between men and women, but among whites, there are almost 150 more men than women (896 vs. 748), while it skews the other way in most other groups. Why the population skews toward white men but women of color I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question. In response to Larry’s question, the other 11% is international at 10%, and 1% for Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaskan Native, and unknown. I don’t know how the international group breaks by race/ethnicity, but I’d guess there are significant numbers of Asians, Latinx’s and maybe Africans, so it might not change things dramatically.


  • Lee Bolman

    One other thing worth mentioning: we’re very close to the tipping point where more than half of American high school graduates will be non-white. At the beginning of this century, about 70% of US high school graduates were white. Now it’s just over 50% and still declining. Manwhile, Hispanics were about 11% of HS grads in 2000, and they’re over 20% now. There’s a smaller increase among African-Americans in the same time period: from 13% to maybe 16%. Students of more than one race weren’t being counted in 2000, but they’re about 2% of HS graduates now. So the pool from which Yale draws its students is changing, and it makes sense that the Old Blues of the future will be demographically very different from us,

    • Larry Price

      Lee, I have been mulling your two replies which I find very interesting. Below is a short table:

      %High School Graduates %Yale Undergraduates
      Asian American 12% 24%

      Hispanic 20% 15%

      African-American 16% 9%

      2 or More 2% 6%

      White 50% 35%

      Total 100% 89%

      The most interesting observation is, notwithstanding the DOJ suit, Asian Americans are over-represented in the Yale undergraduate population and African-Americans are underrepresented. Of course, discrimination depends on the choices made within the applicant pool, not within the general population.

      The second observation is that I have decided that in the next life, I want to come back as two or more. This WASP stuff is vastly overrated.

      Best regards, Larry Price

  • John Hatch

    Lee, Thank you! As an ole admissions officer, one of the telling statistics on selctivity is not # taken from # applying (especially nowadays), but yield: # offered places versus # (anticipated) accepting. With 300+ deferred from last year I suspect Yale will have to admit even fewer than usual if they are to house them, or are there an especially large number of students who are expected to take time off? An interesting follow-up article piece might be on how undergrads spend when not on campus, % that do so, adn % of entering class that aren’t expected to graduate in 4 years but pershaps in 5/6, which is now considered being “on-time.” John

  • Lee Bolman


    Your point is a good one. Admissions offices at Yale and many other institutions are facing an unusually complicated problem of predicting who will actually show up in a year with an unusually high overhang of deferred admits and lingering effects of the pandemic. Harvard plans to bring all undergraduates back in the Fall, and President Salovey just announced that Yale is “cautiously optimistic” it will do the same. I suspect Yale will try to squeeze in as many students as possible, but overbooking space by too much could create a real problem. The pandemic is still a question mark: Yale’s Covid-19 cases have trended up in recent weeks, but the hope is that things will be much better by Fall.

    Larry, keep us updated on your project of coming back as two or more.