Light & Verity

Residential colleges share the wealth

Yale reduces disparities between “rich” and “poor” colleges.

Michael Sloan

Michael Sloan

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All of Yale’s 12 residential colleges are equal. But until recently, some were more equal than others. Seniors in Pierson College, for example, took an annual trip to Italy with the help of a special fund in that college, and Jonathan Edwards College mounted elaborate art exhibits with lavishly printed catalogs. Over the past three years, though, the university has been working to reduce disparities in the colleges’ budgets for student activities and special programs.

As might be expected, the effort has been met with approval from those who had smaller pots to draw from, and ire from those with larger ones. But administrators insist the change is necessary to insure that all students get the same Yale education.

“What I saw in the past was real inequity in terms of access to the resources to be able to develop programs,” says Yale College dean Mary Miller ’81PhD, a former master of Saybrook College. “And what’s now really rewarding is to see that there’s funding available in every single college that is not dependent on gifts of the past.”

Traditionally, Yale gave each college an annual sum, based on the size of the college’s population, for student activities. But some colleges also had additional funds of varying sizes, thanks to endowments and special gifts. Yale announced in 2010 that, to balance out the variation, it would reduce payments to two of the wealthiest colleges (Pierson and Jonathan Edwards), and either raise or maintain the budgets for the rest. Yale also redistributed endowment funds earmarked for specific colleges, requiring the colleges to give up some of those funds for financial aid and general use rather than student activities.

That hasn’t been easy for colleges like Pierson, which decided to cancel its Italy trip. “It was painful,” says Calhoun College master Jonathan Holloway ’95PhD, who has been chair of the Yale College Council of Masters during the restructuring process. “Some colleges lost a lot of resources. Masters felt like they were losing autonomy. But I think every master understood the logic of it.” Holloway says the equalization—combined with more scrutiny from Yale’s central office of all the colleges’ budgets—has helped make the process fairer and more straightforward.

Gary Haller left his position as master of Jonathan Edwards shortly before the financial changes took effect. “You can’t argue against equality,” he says. “Everybody’s paying the same tuition.” But Haller laments other changes that in his view have diminished the colleges’ unique identities, such as the fact that all the dining halls share a common china now, instead of individual designs for each college.

“The individuality of the colleges is what makes them special,” Haller says. “Every student I’ve ever known thought they [had] the best college.”

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