OAKLEY: More than the bare minimum

Life isn’t fair; Yale should be. Although I’ve been here for less than a semester, I have experienced institutional imbalances that I’d like to address.

My parents have always worked their hardest to provide for my sister and I. When I arrived at Yale, I wanted to be self-sufficient. In pursuit of that goal, I spend ten hours a week working an on-campus job. I use the money that I get from my job to take care of basic expenses, like laundry, or snacks and toiletries from CVS, so that my parents don’t have to worry about them. I’m working extra shifts this month to be able to afford Christmas presents for my friends and family, since it seems like everyone back home wants a Yale hoodie. As I’m trying to adjust to Yale academically and socially, I’m constantly aware of what those ten hours represent: They are ten hours I could be studying, ten hours I could be coaching for the Urban Debate League or learning to code for the Sports Analytics Group, ten hours I could be using to catch up on much-needed sleep.

Because of the student income contribution, students on financial aid are required to pay the University up to $5,950 each year, either by working campus jobs, taking out loans, or asking their parents for help. Recently, Yale has taken some steps to improve the experience of low-income students. Because of the new startup fund, my student income contribution is mostly covered. But the startup fund is only available to first years, which means that as a sophomore, junior and senior, I’m going to have to figure out how to make up nearly $6,000. Self-sufficiency will hardly be an option anymore.

Here’s my dilemma.

How do I ask my parents to come up with money when they have so much on their plate at home? On the other hand, how can I work enough to earn $6,000 on my own?

Yale has the power to eliminate the student income contribution. They pay nearly half a billion dollars to private equity managers. The amount given to these people is nearly three times the amount apportioned to student financial aid. But Yale’s admissions brochures don’t show investment managers: They show students like me, and tout our stories of perseverance.

It is appalling to me that it would take so little to end the student income contribution but Yale refuses to do it. Yale would only have to slightly increase the percentage of the endowment it spends each year — from the bare minimum of 5 percent — and the contribution would vanish.  It would be a remarkable improvement which would ensure that no student would need to work to pay tuition. This change is pennies to Yale, but it could make a transformative difference in my life and in the lives of fellow students.

University President Salovey has said that the student income contribution creates a bond between a student and Yale, ensuring that the student “values [their] education.” This is an opinion held by many of Yale’s oldest and richest donors, who believe students should work to pay their tuition. Although donors may romanticize the idea of spending a few hours a week shelving books, the reality is that nobody comes up with nearly $6,000 without help from their parents or by working much more than that. Yale has changed dramatically since the 50s and 60, when it was mostly inaccessible to women, people of color and low-income students. Why is it that the oldest donors get to decide what is best for students now?

Whether or not the Student Income Contribution is eliminated, I’ll be working. It’s simply a question of how much. No student should have to work more than other, more financially fortunate students, to pay tuition, especially as we contribute to the university by challenging ourselves academically, stretching ourselves in our extracurriculars and supporting our communities.

Joshua Oakley is a first year in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at joshua.oakley@yale.edu .

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