November 3, 2005

The beloved donor who abolishes tuition.

That's a nice way to get deep appreciation for your $100 million gift.


John Thacker said...

Yes, very nice.

I had to giggle at this quote, though: He declined to discuss the donors, but said the pledge was a single gift. "One might imagine a couple," he said.

Well, I suppose one might. Would one be correct to imagine a couple, I wonder?

Jake said...

All the Ivy League schools have endowments so huge that they could end tuition for the next 100 years and have billions left over.

I think it is a crime how many colleges are sitting on vast fortunes and still make their students be in debt for much of their lives to pay their tuition.

Ann Althouse said...

Jake: That's why the donor has to limit the gift as this one did.

XWL said...

It's not my place to tell anyone (or any couple) who can afford to endow $100M where to spend their money, but this seems like the last place that needs this money.

A more effective and socially responsible place to spend this money would be to fund 10,000 public school music programs instead of 1 private post graduate music program.

Or better yet set up 100 private, tuition free, music academies across the country so that by the time these kids get to Yale it won't predominately be elite private school graduates good enought to get into Yale's music program (which given the state of arts programs in public schools may be the case now).

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe the donor wants Yale to become the best music school or wants to be loved by Yalies.

magemom said...

Now all we need is for someone to donate a few million to an LRAP for public interest lawyers. Talented grads shouldn't have to eschew public interest work b/c of their $75K in debt.

Dave said...

Best solution: leave the money to the kids and compel colleges and universities to use their own funds wisely.

Stiles said...

I think it is a very fine gift to support Music at Yale. The opportunity for talented students to attend without regard to finances should be welcomed regardless of institution.

For disclosure, I'm biased. I graduated from Yale College in 1990 with just $1,800 in loans. I am very grateful for the need-guaranteed financial package that Yale provided. It allowed me to pursue a career in public education without feeling the need to go into a more highly compensated profession. It is certainly the case that my graduate work at both public and private universities has cost me more than my Yale B.A.

I do ASC work and the April bulletin stated that a bit more than half of Yale College's admits attended public schools. Perhaps a more sobering piece of information was that only 2/3 of those admitted had applied for student aid.

Now, this gift benefits graduate students in the Music school instead of undergraduates, but anything that increases access to elite institutions for all students regardless of background is a good thing and should be commended.

Steve Donohue said...

I have to second what xwl said. If love of music was what promoted this donation, this was a poor use of funds. It would be better to, say, fund all the high school music programs in the Northeast.

I don't know what motivated this. I don't think it can be just because he wanted to be loved, because then it wouldn't be anoymous. It can't be to make the Yale School of Music the best in the nation, as Ann suggested: if I may make a legal comparison, that would be like a donor giving a huge sum of money to a law school like Southern Methodist University. I've never heard Yale discussed as an elite music school, and it takes a lot more than money to make a school rise to the top in their genre. And furthermore, subsidizing tuition (however generous and thoughtful) doesn't really do anything for the school itself.

It's a great gesture, but I'm not sure it's really any more than that.

Wade_Garrett said...

I'm a "class agent" (fund-raiser) for the Yale College class of 2002. There's a big debate, both among my fellow class agents and I and between the fund raisers and alumni about this.

Yale's endowment, as of June 2004, was 12.7 billion dollars. Since the mid-90s, Yale's endowment has grown at the rate of approximately 20% per year, on average, which means that the endowment managers are investing with an absurd amount of skill. It also means that, today, the endowment is probably at 15 billion dollars or so.

One of the oldest and most sacred principles of the WASP set is "never touch the principal." Nonetheless, I think that Yale should use some of that money to, if not reduce tuition, at least to freeze it. I understand all of the arguments about how, by investing the money the institution gets more value in the long run. But growing an endowment for the sake of growing an endowment seems somewhat circular and useless to me.

My math isn't great, so correct me if I'm wrong. But let's say the average Yale student pays 30K per year in tuition, and there are 1300 students per class. That means that Yale bring in $39 million per year per class from undergraduates. If Yale set aside 5 billion dollars to reduce student's tuition, it could send all student to Yale for free until at least the 22nd century. Its something more people should be thinking about.

Eli Blake said...


A more effective and socially responsible place to spend this money would be to fund 10,000 public school music programs instead of 1 private post graduate music program.

On one level I agree with you, but on another I don't. Obviously, you are right on the face of it that this would benefit more students and communities. However, two things you have to think about are that:

1) where it went guarantees that it won't be only rich kids who get the benefit on an education (I won't go into a detailed discussion of this, but at the risk of linking into my own blog, I did a post last month that highlighted the inequities that occur when you raise tuition to the point that only the rich can attend college).

and, 2: the way it was structured guarantees that budget driven administrators or state legislators won't be able to get their hands on it to divert it. I've seen situations where money is donated to one division in a school, and school administrators use it as an excuse to cut that division and send funding elsewhere (thereby completely trampling the intent of the donor). And with a grant this size, if it went to, say, public school music programs, it isn't unreasonable to think it would similarly attract the attention of state legislators who would use it as an excuse to cut state funding for public schools so they could enact their own pet projects, tax cuts, pay increases or whatever the heck else they wanted.

As strong an advocate as I am of public schools, if I had the opportunity to donate an amount of money like this, I would consider structuring it similarly, and at a private institution, precisely so it would not be used as an excuse of a budget cut by someone else.

JSU said...

All I know is, it's good for opera.

Jimmy said...

Yale's stinginess is even more egregious than your post implies. According to your post Yale's college has 1,300 kids per class, thats 5,200 students. If tuition is $30,000 Yale would have to spend $156 million per year to guarantee all students a free education.

$156 million is a mere 3.12% return on $5 billion dollars. Obviously those who run the fund would be able to earn a much greater return that 3.12%.

So Yale is being stingy, not to conserve its principle, but because it doesn't want to give up a small percent of future earnings.

Let me frame this on a larger scale. If Yale has a $15 billion endowment, it could fully fund free undergraduate education by simply requiring the first 1.04% of its return be dedicated to undergraduate tuition.

This means, even if Yale has a dismal return of 4%, it would be spending only 25% of its income on free education. Yale's stinginess has nothing to with conserving its principal, its an Ebenezer Scrooge obsession to hoard wealth.

Stiles said...

From my perspective, it makes little sense for Yale to become a tuition free school. A Yale education has value and those with adequate means should pay something toward it. Considering that 1/3 of admits do not apply for financial aid, what purpose is served by zeroing out their tuition? To me, the question is whether there are financial barriers to matriculating for students from low-income or middle-class circumstances and applying financial aid to eliminate those barriers. More information on Yale College financial aid is available at .

The importance of a healthy endowment shouldn't be underestimated. More recent classes did not experience the decline in maintenance and the physical plant that resulted from weak endowment performance in the 1960's and 1970's. It is also the case that tuition rarely reflects the real price tag. Research grants and endowment allocations underwrite a share of overhead fixed costs that do not get passed on to tuition.

Wade_Garrett said...

Stiles is correct; I went to school with some very, very wealthy people and reducing or eliminating their income would not improve the school in any significant way. Also, I realize that part of the endowment's return already goes towards keeping tuition lower than it otherwise might be.

Starting in 1998, Yale undertook a 14-year plan to completely rennovate each of its 12 residential college dormitories, plus the largest of the freshman dormitories. Each of these 12 colleges cost at least $50 million to rennovate -- and all of it was raised by alumni of that particular college. Literally, the tore out everything but the exterior walls and started over from scratch on the inside. In just two years per college Yale was able to raise $50 million from each of seven twelfths of its undergraduate alumni pool -- a staggering sum. The endowment definitely pays for overhead and some maintenance cost, but Yale is in the process of totally replacing its housing stock, and the endowment had very little to do with it.

Jake said...

A head of a foundation told me that way too much money is given to colleges. He feels that those contributions should instead go to private elementary and high schools where it will do the poor much more good.

If a minority child can't read or write by the 7th grade, that child is doomed to a life of poverty. Money should be flowing to these inner city children so they can attend a private elementary schools.

Pastor_Jeff said...

If Yale is like my alma mater, then the tuition rate already reflects grants from the endowment to lower every student's cost. I'm not saying that the endowment isn't a hugely underused pile of cash, but some of it likely already goes to help pay for tuition. I would imagine that Yale is an incredibly expensive operation and that tuition doesn't cover costs.

But I think Jake is on target. Does Yale have a pool of poor and qualified applicants who are kept out only by tuition costs? I agree that the real need is not how to make Yale Music more afordable, but how to help elementary and secondary kids.

Of course, for a lot of reasons there aren't nearly as many large donors for that kind of work. I know a great guy here in St. Louis who works with inner city kids to provide tutoring, mentoring, ACT prep, and career planning, and he goes begging for money and volunteers.

Richard Dolan said...

The talk in the prior comments about whether a gift to the Yale Music School was appropriate or the "most socially useful" application of those funds misses the central point. Since the funds belonged to the donors, only the donors' conception of social utility matters. Their generosity in devoting their fortune to a purpose that will benefit generations of students should be applauded, and without all the carping.

Nor is there much to be said for the demand that the Ivies should devote some portion of their endowments to making an Ivy education free for all regardless of circumstances. I think the opposite is the better policy - all students should pay for their own education. Nothing worth having is free or comes without effort -- be it freedom, a nice car, a healthy body or a good education. To those who think they are entitled to the good things in life, and all for free, well, the short answer is you're not and never have been. So stop the whining, grow up and get on with it.

Sean E said...

Couldn't agree more with the second paragraph of Ricard Dolan's comment above. I have to take issue with this, though:

"Since the funds belonged to the donors, only the donors' conception of social utility matters. Their generosity in devoting their fortune to a purpose that will benefit generations of students should be applauded, and without all the carping."

No question it's their money to do with as they will. But $100 million can do a lot of good. There's nothing wrong with helping to make sure more opera singers start their careers debt free, but this seems like a waste of a tremendous opportumity to me.

Loved this quote from the acting Dean: "You can imagine another president steering this to science or medicine ...". Uh, yeah, dodged a bullet there.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Richard Dolan,

Where did you get the idea that anyone in this thread thinks that people should get good things in life for free? Who is whining? Your comments seem based more on what you're bringing to the discussion than the discussion itself.

Or, to respond in a different way:

Damn that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation! How will 3rd world children ever learn the importance of developing their own malaria vaccines when rich do-gooders give them away?

Richard said...

In a case of fascinating timing, Indiana University's School of Music announced today that Barbara Jacobs, former owner of the Cleveland Indians, has bought the naming rights to the IU SoM for $40.6 million.

Er. Well, they didn't put it exactly like that. The money is going to endow faculty positions and set up scholarships for new graduate and undergraduate students. Effectively, it establishes a recruiting budget in perpetuity (and it *is*, in fact, now the Indiana University _Jacobs_ School of Music).

While the deal has allegedly been in the works for three years (she asked her son what he wanted for this birthday, and he said he wanted the IU SoM named after his father), I find it fascinating that the news comes as soon as it does after Yale's announcement. I'm not exactly sure how comparable it is; IU costs about half what Yale does, but they've also got far more music students. It's also clearly not intended in the same spirit as an anonymous donation might be.

The thing of it is, it's not just about "opera singers finishing school debt-free". If one is going to school for things like computer science, business, law, medicine, etc., there are stable jobs out there that will make paying back mountains of loans at least conceivable. Someone going to school for music has absoltely no idea, by and large, what's waiting for them when they get out--so the loans are a heck of a lot scarier. It's not just about being "debt-free", it's about having a sufficiently manageable amount of debt where one can conceivably make the payments once one gets out of school. Music is a very high-risk educational investment for the individual student, plain and simple.