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Work, Study, Study, Work
When Ira Grudberg enrolled at Yale, in 1951, the cost of a year at the College was just over $1,400. While the sum may seem a pittance by today’s standards, it was then a hefty burden for the son of a small paving-company owner and a part-time sales clerk from Stamford, Connecticut, and it could only be met with the help of financial aid. For two years, scholarships covered Grudberg’s tuition; he paid for his room and board by working in the library and running the elevator in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. But in his junior year, Grudberg decided to leave Yale and enlist in the Army. “I realize in retrospect that when I left, it was because I was depressed,” he says. “The overall tone of the place in the early 1950s was still very much set by the preppies, and I had no money to take the road trips to Vassar, or do many of the other things they were doing.”
Grudberg, who later returned to New Haven and earned a bachelor’s degree from the College in 1955 and an LLB from the Law School in 1960, attended Yale at a time when the student body was still made up largely of white male Protestants whose parents were able to cover the cost of a college education without financial assistance. Today, however, Yale is a very different place. The student body is a melting pot by comparison (47 percent are women and 25.5 percent are classified as members of minorities), and 57 percent of the undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance. Most of those students have part-time jobs to help cover a portion of their financial aid obligations. The extra work can put a strain on students whose academic load is considered the heaviest in the Ivy League, but envious talk of the preppie lifestyle is surprisingly rare. Instead, one is more likely to hear students talking about the gratification they get from their jobs and the pride they take in helping put themselves through school. “If anything, there’s a stigma against the old-line legacies from rich families,” says Sascha Segan ’95, who is the former managing editor of the Yale Daily News. “At the Yale of today, it’s probably more embarrassing to say you’re very rich than very poor.”
One reason for this change in attitude is the sheer number of students receiving some level of assistance. “Only a minority can have a stigma,” says Segan, “and at Yale, so many students are on financial aid that it’s just not a big deal. Nobody even knows who gets it and who doesn’t.” What’s more, the cost of a Yale education is so high ($27,630 for the 1995–96 academic year), that there’s no longer any embarrassment attached to needing some help in making ends meet. According to Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Jim Tilton, the median income of families applying for financial aid this past year was $59,315, although applications from families earning $100,000 or more are not uncommon. “Most people just figure that the cost of going to Yale is so astronomical, everybody is on financial aid,” Segan says.
Among the swelling ranks of financial aid students is Andy Rosivach ’95, who works the maximum amount of time allowed by Yale (19 1/2 hours a week) as a supervisor of student safety patrols for the Yale Police Department. “I received a large grant my freshman year, but it was cut back to just loans my sophomore year, which came as a huge blow to me and my family,” he says. Rosivach, whose father is a classics professor at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, and whose mother is an office worker, says he enjoys his job and welcomes the opportunity to work with people he would otherwise never have met.
Like other students who have campus jobs, however, Rosivach admits that the additional work does create some hardships. His shift runs from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. “I take a lot of naps, and I usually miss breakfast,” he says. Rosivach tries to work around his nocturnal obligations by scheduling his classes so that they don’t meet early in the morning. But this semester, he couldn’t find a way to avoid a 9 a.m. class the morning after one of his 2 a.m. patrols. “I drink a lot of coffee before that class,” he says. Still, Rosivach says he finds his work experience “personally rewarding,” and is even considering pursuing a career in law enforcement as a result.
Fulfilling as the extracurricular work may be in other ways, the main reason for undertaking it remains financial. The University has a workforce of approximately 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students who earn an average of $6.60 an hour working an average of ten hours a week. While the standard student loan is $12,000, this is a figure that varies widely. It is calculated by adding the student’s term bill and other expenses and subtracting from that the parents’ contribution and the amount the student is expected to earn ($4,950 for freshmen and sophomores, and $6,800 for juniors and seniors) through summer and school-year work. The resulting figure is called the student’s demonstrated financial need.
Laurie LaPorte’s demonstrated financial need is especially high. Her parents—a department store manager and a factory worker from Charlemont, Massachusetts—are not able to contribute anything toward her education, so LaPorte—who is graduating this month—has had to cover the whole amount with a combination of Yale grants, federal loans, and whatever she has been able to earn through work-study jobs and during the summer. At one point, LaPorte held three jobs in addition to her studies. She worked for an environmental group that promotes recycling on campus, and as a clerical worker for both Sterling Library and the psychology department. She admits that working so much has caused her to miss out on some aspects of college life and that her grades have occasionally suffered. But, she adds, “I knew I had to do it if I wanted to be at Yale; it came with the deal.”
Jamilah Haygood ’96 carries a similar load. An architecture major from Anchorage, Alaska, she holds down part-time jobs in the Berkeley College dining hall and the international law library, as well as one at the John Slade Ely House, a New Haven art gallery. With an $800 round-trip airline ticket on top of her tuition and other needs, the extra work is not an option. But it means some substantial sacrifices."It affects what other things you can do,” she says. “You don’t have a free minute, which means it’s really hard to do any extracurriculars.”
For students like Brendan Doyle ’96, however, having to work in addition to studying actually enhances his college experience. “It’s a real team atmosphere,” says Doyle of his five-hour-a-week shift doing clerical work and odd jobs for the athletics department. “I get to experience a part of Yale a lot of students never get to see.” Doyle, whose father is a retired military officer and whose mother is a substitute teacher, says he’s had no trouble finding time for his job. “You learn really fast how to budget your time,” he says. “I just treat my job like another class and block out the time.” He adds that he considers his Yale job an important part of his education. “It helps you deal with people, to take time out during the day to be a worker instead of just a student,” he says.
Having a job has become so accepted, in fact, that even undergraduates who don’t have to work often choose to do so. For example, Lisa Wilson ’95 works five hours a week in the master’s office at Calhoun College, even though she’s not on financial aid. “It’s just another thing you do to help out your parents and to get more involved in the College,” she says. “It’s like a good internship. You earn some money, make some contacts, and gain some valuable experience.”
Critical as they are to undergraduates on a variety of levels, their jobs also contribute in an important way to the functioning of the University. Employment supervisors say that, far from being make-work positions created merely to help students fulfill their financial-aid obligations, the duties performed by students are vital. The University, they say, would have a hard time running were it not for the work its students do. Fran Georges, director of administrative services for the athletics department, says students hired by her department do virtually everything from running the intramural programs to serving as announcers at games. They also keep score, park cars, collect tickets, and work as lifeguards, writers, pool supervisors, referees, and stable attendants. “We’ve been fortunate with the students we’ve hired,” she says. “They’re very conscientious, and I consider them a part of our staff, not just a bunch of kids who come in a few hours a week to earn a few extra dollars.” Diane Williams, supervisor of the Student Employment Office, says she’s especially impressed by how organized, reliable, and self-disciplined most of the student workers are. “They utilize time like I’ve never seen,” she says. “It’s just an amazing feat, they’re so focused.”
This mutual dependence would have been unthinkable only 50 years ago. Before World War II, Yale, like other Ivy League schools, admitted relatively few students who couldn’t afford to pay the full tuition. According to Director of Financial Aid Donald Routh, the University had a small number of scholarships that were distributed by the deans as they saw fit. The first time a significant number of students needing financial assistance was admitted to Yale was after the war ended, when the G.I. Bill helped thousands of returning veterans get a college education. The next jump came in 1953, when a coalition of colleges and universities banded together to develop a common formula for distributing financial aid funds. In 1965, the numbers shot up again with the passage of the National Higher Education Act, which marked the beginning of direct federal support for higher education.
The number of students receiving aid remained stable for several years, but began rising again in 1975. By 1993, it had jumped to 43.4 percent for freshmen and 44.5 percent for sophomores. Last year, the freshmen stayed at 43 percent, but the sophomores rose to 45 percent. Today, 41.6 percent of Yale’s undergraduate student body receives some level of need-based aid from Yale. (Another 15.4 percent receive outside scholarships that are not necessarily need based.)
There are several reasons for the steady increase. The most obvious, of course, is the rising cost of a Yale education. But there’s also been a significant shift in the demographics of the student body. Like its sister institutions, Yale in recent years has seen a substantial drop in the number of children of alumni and of students coming from private schools—two groups that are traditionally able to pay their way. (Explanations vary, but one is that families in general have grown smaller since the 1960s; that trend is beginning to change as the post-baby-boom generation reaches child-bearing age.) A third factor has been the recession, which began to be felt in 1990 and is only now easing up.
Not surprisingly, the rising number of undergraduates on aid has created some bureaucratic problems for both the University and the students. Meagan Ortega ’95, who works ten hours a week in Sterling Library, says she is completely comfortable with her status as a financial aid student and enjoys her job. Her only gripe—and one that is shared by many other students—is dealing with the bursar’s office. A student who falls behind on tuition payments for any reason is automatically placed on bursar’s hold, meaning that he or she can’t register for classes or even eat in the dining hall until the bill is paid. “Basically it means you are a non-person,” says Ortega, whose father is a quality control technician for an audio equipment manufacturer and whose mother is an office manager. “I’ve been placed on bursar’s hold four times out of eight semesters, but three times it was because of clerical errors made either by the bursar or by the financial aid office.” She also complains of having to wait on lines for up to five hours and being treated rudely by people in the bursar’s office. “I’ve been reduced to tears twice,” Ortega says.
Other students say they are concerned that while Yale remains committed to a need-blind admissions policy, its formula for calculating who does or doesn’t qualify for financial aid is growing increasingly stringent. Segan says this trend is particularly hard on middle-class students. “The rich can afford to come to Yale,” he says. “The poor get financial aid, but the people straddling the middle get shut out.” Tilton denies this charge and says that, compared to other Ivy League schools, Yale students tend to work and borrow less.
In reaction to these and other complaints, several student groups—Poor at Yale, the Black Students’ Alliance, and Real Diversity—are increasingly vocal about a variety of aid-related issues. Last spring, student activists staged demonstrations in front of the bursar’s office to protest what they considered excessively long waits for service, rude treatment, and clerical errors. In response, the University has installed a new computer system, among other improvements, which students say has made a big difference. What most concerns the students now is the possibility that University officials may reduce aid to students who live off campus because they save so much money on room and board. “If financial aid is intended to cover the cost of attending Yale and it is cheaper to live off campus,” says Tilton, “it may not make sense for those students to receive the same amount of money as those who live in the residential colleges. It’s something we need to look at.”
This is not the administration’s only concern. Congress is once again considering cutting back funding for federal student loans, which means that Yale would probably have to pick up the difference—again. In 1980, 23.6 percent of all scholarship funds were federal. A decade later, the federal share had dropped to 7.8 percent and Yale’s portion had risen to 79.7 percent. (The remainder was covered by state, alumni, and other outside scholarships.) This year, the federal share dropped to 6.4 percent, and Yale’s share rose to 84.3 percent. “As a percentage of total need, federal funds have not kept up with tuition hikes or inflation, and it could get a lot worse,” says Routh.
All of this raises the obvious question: If Yale is paying out so much in financial aid, wouldn’t it make more sense simply to charge less for tuition so that more students could pay for their education without requiring financial assistance from the University? Routh points out that although a large percentage of the student body receives financial aid directly from Yale, an even larger portion does not. “You could say that every time we raise our tuition by a dollar, we only net 58 cents because the rest goes to aid. But that 58 cents is critical to running the institution.” He also points out that much of the money used by the University for financial aid comes from restricted funds and can’t be used for anything else.
So for the foreseeable future, financial aid and student employment are destined to be staples of Yale life. But far from being seen as hardships, many students and administrators regard this development as all to the good. At a time when even an Ivy League graduate needs whatever competitive advantage he or she can get, fostering financial responsibility and providing work experience are increasingly seen as other ways in which Yale is preparing its graduates for the future.
But like their education, that future also comes with a price. Within six months of receiving their diplomas, virtually all financial-aid recipients will have to start paying back their loans—unless they go to graduate school, join the Peace Corps, or do something else that allows them to defer their payments. “It’s great that I was able to come to Yale, but I can’t just take off and do whatever I want when I leave,” says LaPorte. “In six months I’d better have a job, because I’ve got to start paying it all back.”
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