Opening doors and making room: ‘Yale was a possibility for me’
This story is the first in a series about Yale’s evolution under President Peter Salovey as he prepares to return to the faculty later this year.
Growing up in the Fair Haven neighborhood of New Haven, Kiana Flores never really considered Yale a part of her future.
But as a high school student she joined New Haven REACH, which pairs local public-school students with Yale undergraduates who offer advice on the college admissions process. Her mentor encouraged Flores to think about Yale because of her interest in political science and climate change. And, she learned, Yale’s financial aid resources would ensure that she could attend without loans.
“A really big part of choosing where to go to college was where I would have the least debt and the most financial aid, because I knew that my family was not going to be able to finance a four-year undergraduate degree for me,” said Flores, now a Yale junior. “Knowing how generous Yale’s financial aid policy was definitely played into my applying and accepting an offer.”
At Yale, Flores, who is a political science major with a concentration in climate change, balances a rigorous academic schedule with two campus jobs and an active political career (she was recently elected as New Haven’s Ward 1 alder). These experiences have been transformative, she said. “I’ve been able to shape my view of my role at the university, my role in local politics, and even my idea of what I want to do in the future with a political science degree.”
Achieving a more accessible and more excellent university was a central piece of the vision articulated by President Peter Salovey when he took office a decade ago, and Yale has invested widely to ensure that cost does not stand in the way of enrollment for any student, regardless of socioeconomic status.
In turn, many people across and beyond campus — in undergraduate admissions, the graduate and professional schools, applicant outreach, and enrolled-student resources, as well as among generous alumni and friends — have also helped turn that vision into reality.
“Yale is committed to educating the most promising students, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, who will become leaders in their fields and contribute greatly to the nation and world,” said Salovey. “More than ever before, we welcome excellent students from every walk of life and ensure that they have opportunities to thrive once they are on campus.”
Enriching Yale by enabling access
Since Salovey began his tenure, in 2013, Yale College has seen dramatic increases in the diversity of its student body, across several dimensions, facilitated in part by its expansion in 2017. That year, the opening of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin Colleges allowed undergraduate enrollment to increase by nearly 20%, to over 6,500.
This growth, along with a robust financial aid budget, expanded outreach and targeted communications that highlight affordability, and a ‘whole-person’ admissions process that considers potential broadly, has brought measurable changes in the makeup of the student body: with the increase in the number of matriculated students, the number of first-year students eligible for Federal Pell Grants in the class of 2027 is 130% higher than it was a decade ago; the number of first-generation first-year students is nearly 115% higher; and the number of students of color has increased by 96%. Pell grants support undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.
Students from families with annual incomes below $75,000 and typical assets qualify for financial aid awards, without loans, that require no parental contribution. These awards cover the full cost of tuition, housing, the meal plan, travel, hospitalization insurance, and a $2,000 startup grant with scholarship funds.
Yale also is one of only a handful of American universities that meet demonstrated need for all undergraduate students, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Nearly two-thirds of Yale undergraduates receive financial assistance, and over 85% graduate with zero student loan debt.
“Between the increase in Pell-eligible students and the addition of two new residential colleges, we’ve doubled the number of low-income students in Yale College in the past decade,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, whose first day in that role, in 2013, coincided with the start of Salovey’s presidency. “That's a tremendous accomplishment that takes leadership and takes vision. And having Peter's leadership and vision at the top is one of the key factors that has driven us in that area.”
Pell Grant-eligible first-year students
Access has also widened in Yale’s graduate and professional schools. Tuition discounts and stipends reduce cost for nearly every student in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In the professional schools, the generosity of donors has made the David Geffen School of Drama, the School of Music, the Institute of Sacred Music, and the Yale Divinity School (for students with demonstrated need) tuition-free.
Other Yale schools have expanded financial aid. Yale School of Medicine, for instance, has greatly reduced the expected debt for its graduates, and Yale Law School created a first-of-its-kind scholarship program that has made it possible for students with significant financial need to attend tuition free — 75 students this year alone. That program, the Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program, provides a new approach to funding legal education, one modeled directly after Yale College’s financial aid program.
“Yale Law School has long been a leader in expanding access to legal education in order to open up the gates of the profession to all students irrespective of financial need,” said Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken. “By launching the Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program and fortifying every existing financial aid program at YLS, we are working to break down the barriers that too often stand in the way of students pursuing their dreams.”
Support beyond admissions
Over the past decade, Yale’s commitment to accessibility has included ensuring that students of all backgrounds are supported beyond tuition throughout their undergraduate education. A wide range of services, including academic resources and enrichment programs, clothing grants, and summer stipends, allow students to focus on getting the most out of college. Most recently, Yale College and Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning established the Office of Educational Opportunity, which promotes educational equity and ensures access for all undergraduates to Yale’s educational, advising, and co-curricular opportunities.
For Fernando Rojas ’19, ’23 J.D., seeing those resources build from his matriculation in 2015 through his law school studies was particularly gratifying. Rojas, whose parents immigrated to Southern California from Mexico, majored in history at Yale and earned academic recognition as an undergraduate, including the Hart Lyman prize and a Beinecke scholarship in his junior year, and a Gates Cambridge Scholarship as a senior. The ability to take full advantage of his time as a student rose from the community and resources he found on campus — which now includes First-Year Scholars at Yale, a six-week summer experience for incoming students, and the FGLI Community Initiative.
“Over my time at Yale, first-generation, low-income student support became much more institutionalized,” he said. “And that’s critical because getting into the school is hard enough; making sure that you have the tools you need to succeed is equally important.”
Yale alumni earn roughly the same after graduation regardless of their socioeconomic status when they arrived on campus, said Quinlan, the undergraduate admissions dean. They also go on to attain graduate and professional degrees at similar rates.
“There are fewer and fewer opportunities to achieve this kind of socioeconomic mobility in the world, so the fact that a Yale education provides that is extremely valuable and is the reason we wanted to, and have, made these changes,” he said. “The idea that we know that a Yale education has such a transformative impact on students and families and communities, how could we not invest in expanding the diversity of the class in this way?”
Rojas, who is now a lawyer in Los Angeles, recently took his parents to Europe, their first overseas trip. During their travels, he found himself reflecting on his own journey. “It’s wild that I can trace where this started back to that critical juncture in high school when I realized that Yale was a possibility for me, financial aid exists there, and I’m not ridiculous for wanting to go there if I can get in,” he said.
“Knowing that the financial aid system was there let me let go of the apprehension and anxiety and made my dream feel possible.”