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Yale 62

Economic Disparity at Yale, a discussion

A Sept. 7, 2023, New York Times story about a case study of economic diversity at elite colleges sparked a series of exchanges among Y62 Communications Team members that other classmates may wish to join. The Times article is here.

The NYT today has about 3 articles on college finances and the data, whilst confusing, show that Yale is well in line with the percentage of lower income students, but leads the pack with the net cost of only $4,000. If correct, Yale having a net cost of $4,000 is remarkable compared to the others.

And Duke is singled out as having the fewest lower income students as measured by Pell Grants.

Bill Weber

I think the NYT piece is a fairly big deal. No doubt Duke is scrambling to try to combat the message that they don’t care much about enrolling poor people. The data shows Harvard with a slightly higher percentage of Pell grant recipients (22%) compared to Yale, Columbia and MIT at 21%, ahead of the other Ivies and private elites. Brown and Chicago at 14%, and Duke at 12% look like real laggards.

In the wake of the SCOTUS decision on race in admissions, economic diversity looms even larger. As the Times article indicates, no school wants to say it’s not interested in expanding opportunity for students from lower-income families, and Duke’s spokesperson came out with typical pablum: “There is nothing more important to us than making this education, which has the potential to be completely transformational in the lives of our students, available as widely as possible.”

Lee Bolman

I agree with your comments and feel the current allocation by Yale of lower income groups (measured by Pell grants) in the 20% range and the current legacies of 15% with the net cost of $4000 for lower income groups (if I understand the data), is a reasonable allocation of the Yale admission and cost situation.

Not a bad situation in spite of the current feelings about the elite colleges

Bill Weber

I’m curious about how Pell Grants fit into Yale’s tradition of ensuring that students accepted will receive the financial support they need through loans and grants.

That policy enabled me to join the class of 1962 on a full-ride scholarship, even—thanks to the intervention of Prof. Price — supporting me after I got married and moved off campus.

I seem to recall that today, a majority of Yale College students receive some financial aid. I assume that Pell Grants have become part of the loan portion of their scholarships for those who qualify.

I think it was in our junior year that I learned that the grant/loan ratio varied depending on one’s achievement level. Apparently, there was a formula that projected an expected achievement level based on one’s high school grades and SAT scores.

I was an underachiever my first two years—all loan. As I adjusted to Yale and improved my grades, my last two years were all grant. I owed $6,000 when we graduated, half of which was forgiven when I went into teaching, where I earned $5,000 a year.

Gary Richardson

Pell grants are need-based grants from the federal government, not loans. Yale and other universities will use the Pell grant as one chunk of a scholarship for any student who’s eligible, then add funds from other sources up to the student’s assessed need. Last year, a Pell recipient could receive up to almost $7,000; this year the max is a little higher. Because they’re need based and schools report how many they awarded, they’re a convenient proxy variable for number of low-income students.

I had a financial aid story at Yale similar to yours. After a reasonably dismal performance sophomore year (though I had a lot of fun), my scholarship was cut significantly, and I was poised to drop out. In fact, my roommate Bobby Miller, who was also in a deep academic hole, came out to Cleveland to visit that summer, and tried to persuade me to go with him to join the army. (Bob fought in Vietnam as a Green Beret, then came back and finished Yale.) But my maternal grandparents came to the rescue with enough money to get me through junior year. I learned that being a screw-up has real costs, and did a whole lot better after that. Fortunately, Yale reinstated my scholarship for senior year.

Lee Bolman

At the end of my first year my scholarship turned into a loan. I had had six 8’oclock classes and cut a lot of English25 – hated the teacher and flunked the final exam. Hadn’t read much of the material, but Prof. Sylvester let me write a makeup paper, “Gerontion,” and he liked it. I was drinking a lot. After boarding school from 5th grade I had less than no inner discipline. But at the end of sophomore year much scholarship funds were restored and next year it all turned back into scholarship. I ended up owing Yale less than $2,000 – when I think of what our tuition was I really sympathize with today’s student debtors.

One perhaps amusing PS. Like many other non-STEM guys I took Rocks And Stars. Geology was really fun, presided over by “Rocky” Flint. But the average grade on the Stars final exam was 45%, because none of us knew our backsides from our elbows. e.g., parallax. Wha? I got a 37%, but through the miracles of the curve ended up with a B.

John Stewart

I’ll join the true confessions having started with half scholarship, half loan. While maintaining a “gentlemanly C+/B-” my rank in class class moved from bottom of top 1/3rd to top of bottom 1/3 and I ended with tiny scholarship and huge majority loan. I owed a year’s Tuition, Room and Board at graduation. While a year of law school postponed payments, three years in Peace Corp did not so I paid $25 per month out of my $75/mo resettlement allowance. I was quite amazed and pleased to get my first cancelled/paid-up loan in the mail in about 1968/9. No excuses/rationale for not doing better academically except for settling for the C+/B-average.

It probably wasn’t my grades that got me into Yale, though I had good SATs. But I’d had two uncles who did well, one of whom was a Bonesman and an Episcopal Bishop, and their father, my grandfather, who was also a Bonesman, Phi Beta Kappa and former Secretary of Yale. So, legacy definitely.

Jay Hatch

I’ve been enjoying hearing these stories going around. I think I’ve talked about my scholarship and bursary job experiences at various times. And it goes without saying that I wouldn’t be talking to all of you today if it hadn’t been for Yale’s generous financial aid. I would have been perhaps on alumni activities for Lehigh or Princeton!

Before my senior year at Plainfield (NJ) High School (a public school in an industrial working class town) I thought I would go to Lehigh, since I wanted to be an engineer, and my father had gone there. If it hadn’t been for the interventions of my HS principal and a high school track buddy a year ahead of me who invited me up to a Yale weekend to recruit HS athletes, I wouldn’t even have known where Yale was located.

Anyway, as it turned out, because of financial aid, going to Yale was cheaper than the other two options. And Yale was much more welcoming and gracious in their communications during the admission process, especially in their acceptance letter.

I never had a problem with grades, and I wasn’t familiar with anyone whose scholarship support was in question, so it never occurred to me that I might lose my scholarship. But I did have other friends on scholarship who also had loans, and I was very grateful to Yale that all of my aid was in the form of a gift scholarship, with no loans.

The only time I was confronted with the possibility that I might have to leave Yale was later in my time there, I think in junior year. My father had just lost his job, and he could no longer pay the part of my tuition and expenses that he had been paying. I contacted the financial aid office, and they made an appointment for me right away and asked my father to give them updated information on our family finances and to indicate how much more aid we would need. When I met with the financial aid person they couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive, and they said Yale would increase my aid by the amount my father requested. Again, as with the admission letter, I was as impressed with HOW they did it as I was with WHAT they did. I never felt demeaned by having to request more money.

And now that I think about it some more, I think one of the dominant themes in my experiences with Yale and Yale people is a sense of quality, trust, and kindness, a sense of integrity and goodness in dealing with others. (And this extends to the present time, as I work with all of you!) I have taught at many different universities, and I saw some shabby treatment of people or just unaware abusive treatment (at least I want to assume it was unaware!) And I have always valued those good values that Yale has represented.

Tim Hall

I was not on scholarship and was considered a legacy as my Dad, Maurice, was a FGLI with class of ’28S. However, I was a member of Army ROTC (pay was $27 per month) and worked at various jobs during my 4 years: social research, Alumni Fund, Sterling Memorial Library, snack bar. Passed the Civil Service Exam for the Post Office and turned down a position 2 weeks before freshman year and was not smart enough to see if they would transfer me to the Yale Station. Plus, I had summer employment at the end of freshman year as a camp counselor and then at the end of sophomore year as a grader operator in a canning factory and then assistant grain elevator operator for a co-op. Became a teamster.

Before Yale after age 16, I held various jobs in the summer as a soda jerk, dishwasher, clerk in a pharmacy, tutor Sunday School teacher, busboy and waiter. Before that I shoveled snow in the winter and had a lemonade stand in the summer, and worked one Christmas in my uncle’s hardware store, sweeping floors and doing other odd jobs.

Lee Bakunin

Like Lee Bakunin, I was a legacy admit with no scholarship. My father was in the class of 1933 and heavily involved with Yale Engr. and local student recruitment as well as being a donor contacting Yalies in our area. I think my admission was based on the above facts as well as my father paying the way for all 4 years. I never thought much about finances and paid no attention to who might be on scholarship or not. My roomie, Tony Giamei, went to high school with me and was brilliant, as his Yale and Northwestern experience showed and he got the full ride on a GM scholarship as well as Yale and his bursary job. I often wonder if the reason I was admitted to Stanford was because I was from the East coast, could read and write and could pay the way w/o any aid! In retrospect, seeing all youse guys trials and tribulations re: financial aid, I consider myself somewhere between ignorant and aloof.

Bill Weber

Agree with your thoughts. Challenge to support Yale knowing none of my heirs of future generations must look elsewhere. Another concern is will this new policy extend to other Ivies. Example; because I went to Yale, my heirs will be treated as legacies should they apply to Cornell, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, MIT, Stanford, etc. And will this also apply to grad schools? The slippery slope is likely to become more slippery?

Lee Bakunin

There might be a Coffee Hour or a website piece in these scholarship/no scholarship stories that each of us tells. For most, if not all of us, the 4 undergraduate years were a crucial, liminal period in shaping our lives. Joan and I take some pride in making it to and through Yale in my case, Princeton in hers, even though our parents weren’t college graduates and couldn’t afford to send us there. Was that a better developmental experience? If it was, was it a mistake to preempt our kids from having the same experience because Joan and I, ornamented with Ivy-league degrees, became affluent enough to pay the full freight?

Lee Bolman


Care to join in the conversation? Please do! Add your comments below.

1 comment to Economic Disparity at Yale, a discussion

  • charles merlis

    My father was a New Haven boy, Hillhouse grad, who was ’28S. I’m not sure if I am a Legacy admission as I was rejected in 1957 when I graduated high school at 16. However, my father prevailed on me to go a post graduate year to Blair Academy and I turned down a late entrance to U of Chicago. I had not applied to any other school till I was turned down by Yale in May. After a year at Blair, at the mature age of 17, Yale accepted me. I believe tuition was about $3,000 and my father paid. I may have worked a few nights at the Buttery for the fun of it but my only real job was 3 years as a Christmas Temp for the NYC Post Office. In January of 1961, to my parent’s chagrin, I dropped out. First, for a short vacation, and to make some money I went to Sugarbush as a ski bum and after the March thaw, I went to NYC to make my fortune in theater. I failed. Though I went to THE NEIGHBORHOOD PLAYHOUSE (professional acting school) and subsequently did some acting and directing off-Broadway, I made most of my money driving a cab and a myriad of other jobs, from loading trucks, ballroom dance instruction, editorial assistant, etc. After managing a successful campaign for a State Representative in Johnson County West, Iowa, I gave up and returned to Yale 10 years later for the second half of my junior year as an emancipated impecunious student.
    I believe Yale cost about $6,000 when I returned. I got some scholarship money (I don’t know why. Freshman year, I had the highest grade (92?) in my Classical Civilization course, but everything else was poor to ordinary). I left Yale with a $3,000 government loan at 3% and a $6,000 private government guaranteed loan at 6%. They were deferred until 9 months after I graduated law school. I only paid the interest on the 3% loan until I paid off the 6% loan. It was easy. It’s hard to imagine the vast sums I hear college kids owe now and not just from the Ivy Schools.
    I got my kids through school with no loans but they all went to State (2 NY, 1 Ct) Schools. As to Legacy, my oldest son, with a father AND grandfather before him, was rejected, though he was eminently qualified. He graduated summa cum laude. He’s built an empire in the Capital District of Albany and travels all over the continent in his business, but I still wonder what he would have done if he had been accepted at Yale.