Eighty-three months ago, Princeton declared that they would become the first college nationally to offer a comprehensive no-loan policy for all those receiving financial aid.
28 months ago, Dartmouth decided to make it possible for students from families with household incomes below $30,000 to graduate debt-free.
16 months ago, Columbia announced a policy change to provide no-loan packages to students with family incomes under $50,000.
10 months ago, Penn declared that it would replace loans with grants for students from high-need families (those earning less than $60,000).
1 month ago, Harvard decided no student would be expected to take out loans. Moreover, for families with income below $60,000, the family contribution will be $0. Families with income between $60,000 and $120,000 will give 0% to 10% of family income, from $120,000 to $180,000, 10%.
Last week, Yale eliminated the need for all students to take loans.
One by one, until now, 42 Ivies and other top universities have eradicated loans for the poorest families, and seven of them have eliminated loans for all students.
So … what about Cornell?
Cornell currently holds the prestige of being the stingiest financial aid provider in the Ivy League. According to Common Data Set, when comparing Cornell to the rest of the Ivies, we give out the lowest amount of aid in grants and the highest amount in loans. The average grant at Cornell is $20k, while Brown offers $24k, Princeton gives $25k, Dartmouth provides $28k and Yale gives $30k. Upon graduation, an average Cornell student on financial aid will have taken out $22k in need-based loans, while at Brown that number is $20k, for Dartmouth $17k, for Yale $8k, and a Princeton student will owe precisely nothing. Additionally, from 2006-2007, Cornell was the only Ivy whose average financial aid package, as well as its grants, has actually decreased.
Another inconvenient truth is this: Cornell is the only Ivy that does not meet the demonstrated needs of its international students. Among the 783 international undergraduates who are not from Canada or Mexico, 10-15 students in each class receive financial aid despite many more of them having applied. You might consider those 10 – 15 students lucky, until you see how their packages are calculated. For instance, a girl in class of 2011, with a family income of $32.9k is asked to contribute $35.5k each year — far beyond what you would imagine, right? As a result, a lot of Cornell international students live in poverty and may be have to drop out because of financial difficulty. This makes us unique in the Ivy system.
The current Cornell financial aid packages for students from lower income, middle income, and international families are all way behind all of our peer schools. Beyond even coughing up the money to provide more student assistance, has Cornell even really paid enough attention to this issue?
If you scrutinize the facts rather than our motto, the answer is a big capital NO. In the Cornell Capital Campaign Plan which lasts until 2011; only $225 million (5.6 percent) out of the $4 billion the university plans to raise will be allocated to undergraduate financial aid. Among all the current Ivy fundraising plans, we have the distinction of allotting the lowest percentage to student financial aid. Penn and Columbia have allocated 10 percent of their campaign plans while Dartmouth has earmarked 11.5% for aid.
5.6 percent is far from enough. Considering our current level lagging behind everyone else already, and the fact that we also have a larger undergraduate population, a higher, rather than lower, investment is necessary to catch up with our peer schools. According to my calculation, if we want to achieve Penn’s current level, for example, we would need about $515 million endowment (with 5% payout).
After comparing the current levels and future plans of all Ivies in terms of financial aid, I am astonished to find that the Cornell administration is committed to keeping the title of the “stingiest financial aid provider” in the Ivy League in the future. In fact, by keeping the student aid portion of the Capital Campaign as is, they are demonstrating that they don’t mind creating a larger and larger gap for the upcoming school-year. Our “Far Above” campaign, will indeed yield a “far below” Ivy status. Attending Cornell versus more generous institutions will become a more difficult choice for every applicant.
On the other hand, a much larger part of the Cornell plan, $1.175 billion, (29.4% of the whole plan, which is the highest percentage among all the above Ivy plans,) will be used to construct a dozen new buildings and plazas. Are all of them necessary? What is more important now when many Cornellians are in student poverty?
Cornell is not just a cold name engraved on our buildings. It can be a warm name inscribed in people’s hearts if they are treated well. The appreciation from the bottom of the hearts of each student is the spring that cultivates Cornell for the future and makes it thrive. What you give today is what you gain tomorrow. When a campaign officer finds it difficult to collect money from alumni, has he ever thought that the administration should have treated the alumni better when they were students? Pause and think why Cornell’s alumni giving rate is the lowest among Ivies.
As long as our peer schools with similar financial situations can do much better than we do, we cannot say there is nothing to change. As long as there is one student worrying about next semester’s tuition and board, we can never say our work has been done. As long as there are Cornell parents feeling ashamed that they have to leave their children piles of loans upon graduation because of their lower income status, we should feel ashamed in the same way. And as long as there are students who are admitted to Cornell who cannot come because of the expenses, the issue should be treated like an emergency by the administration.
Dear Cornellians, I challenge you to face this concern and shoot me an email if you have any suggestions, comments or personal stories related to this issue. You are Cornell: when you dream, Cornell dreams, when you act, Cornell acts, Together we can make change happen.
Shawn Kong is a graduate student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Yours, King Kong appears alternate Mondays.