Defining Our Legacy

February 6, 2019

What will our legacy be? Years from now, what will be our successes, and what challenges will we be able to say we overcame?

Access and affordability in higher education are among the most important issues we face as a society. A college degree increases life-long earnings, fuels social mobility, and contributes to a more educated citizenry. And, of course, a college education is its own reward. For years Yale has been working to attract excellent students from diverse backgrounds. Now, as part of the American Talent Initiative, we have joined with other leading colleges to accomplish a common goal: to enroll and graduate 50,000 more low- and moderate-income students by 2025. This week I met with other university leaders at the ATI Presidential Summit to discuss how we can learn from one another and create a lasting legacy.   

Yale has already met and exceeded the major goals we set as part of our ATI commitment in 2016. First, we pledged to increase the number of first-generation students enrolled in Yale College by 150 students by the 2020-2021 academic year. We have surpassed this benchmark, with more than 175 additional first-generation students enrolling in 2018-2019 compared with 2016-2017. Nearly 1,000 first-generation students are currently enrolled in Yale College.

Second, we wanted to increase the number of undergraduates eligible for federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income students. We reached our goal of attracting an additional 225 Pell-Grant eligible students almost two years early. Twenty percent of incoming first-year students meet this criterion, with more than 1,000 Pell-eligible students enrolled in Yale College.

We have been able to meet these commitments mainly because of Yale-provided financial aid. Yale allocated more than $160 million in undergraduate financial aid this year, making a Yale College education affordable for everyone who was admitted. These numbers are even more impressive because we are increasing the size of the student body and the percentage of low-income and first-generation students at the same time. The opening of two new residential colleges—Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray—in 2017 means even more students can benefit from an extraordinary Yale education.

Our work is far from finished. One of our ATI goals is to increase the number of students who participate in Freshman Scholars at Yale (FSY) and Online Experiences for Yale Scholars (ONEXYS). Both programs provide incoming first-year students with support to help them transition to Yale. FSY has grown from thirty-four students in 2014 to an anticipated seventy-two students in 2019. Enrollment in ONEXYS has nearly tripled since 2015 and now serves about 150 students each summer.

We continue to look for ways that students, regardless of their financial means, can benefit from all Yale has to offer. For the first time last summer, the new Domestic Summer Awards provided stipends of $4,000 to students receiving financial aid who wanted to take an unpaid summer internship with a nonprofit organization, government entity, or NGO, or work in an arts apprenticeship. In its first year, 191 Yale College students took advantage of this opportunity. This year, incoming students with the greatest need (whose parents were not asked to contribute to the cost of their Yale education) also received coverage for hospitalization insurance as part of their financial aid awards.

One barrier to attracting low-income students is a lack of information, so we have been working to spread the word about Yale’s affordability. Last year, we added a quick cost estimator to our website that allows students and families to get a sense of what Yale might cost them without requiring complicated tax information. In its first six months, the calculator was used to generate more than 63,000 Yale cost estimates, including 10,000 from families who were Pell-eligible. This is the most among the forty-eight schools who offer the tool. If you know someone who is considering applying to Yale, but who might be nervous about affording tuition, please tell them about this helpful tool.

I have shared my own family’s story elsewhere—that of immigrant grandparents of limited means, arriving in the United States with hopes of a better life. It is a story about the power of education, and it remains as important to the future of this country as it has been to our past.

Yale will continue to be a national leader in access and affordability, advancing our mission by attracting the very best students, from all backgrounds, who will make great contributions to our nation and our world. By working together, I hope this will be our shared legacy.