Unrest continues over the Student Effort Contribution

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story | Harrison Linder, Managing Editor

photo | Terence Wang

The issue of the Student Effort Contribution (SEC) dominated the discussion at the most recent Student Government Town Hall, held on January 21st. The next day, the Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the SEC for “disadvantaging already underprivileged students.” The SEC is a SGD 1,500 per annum fee that all students on financial aid from the Class of 2022 onwards must pay as a part of their tuition. Although the SEC can be paid by students and their families with any funds they see fit, the SEC is expected to be paid through wages earned by students while attending college, hence the name Student Effort Contribution.

The SEC was planned as part of the Yale-NUS financial aid package before the College’s founding in 2011. It was also planned that the SEC would take effect with the Class of 2022, since it was believed that by this point there would be sufficient on campus jobs to meet the demand of all students on the SEC.

While the SEC has been in effect for the Class of 2022 since non-GIRO payments were due in August 2018, public discussion about the SEC, its implementation and its underlying rationale only began after an Octant article describing the SEC as well as an opinion piece expressing dissatisfaction with the SEC were published in November 2018.

Behind the scenes, a group of concerned upperclassmen has been looking into the issues and implications surrounding the SEC since early last semester. Swarnima Sircar ’19 and Jin Hee Lee ’21 were both independently investigating the SEC. In early 2018, a mutual friend, Ruchika Goel ’19 connected Sircar and Lee with each other. Since then, they have jointly gathered information, and have expressed concerns to both the administration and Student Government.

After speaking with students affected by the SEC, they found that many were unclear on how to find jobs on campus and what kinds of support existed for those having problems paying the SEC and more. Sircar said, “Once students realized that they had to pay this S$1,500 fee, their chief concerns were about how to secure stable employment to pay it. As first year students just easing into college life, many were unaware of who to ask for support.”

Sircar and Lee relayed the concerns they received about the SEC to the Financial Aid Office.

Sircar and Lee found that administrators assumed that students were clear on what the SEC was and were not facing significant issues in paying it. Sircar said, “Financial Aid did not seem to think there was any confusion about the SEC because only a single student reached out for clarification about it. However, it is still presumptive to assume that students needed no clarification or assistance. Personal finance is a very difficult thing to talk about, especially for the most financially disadvantaged. There should have been better infrastructure put in place to ensure that students knew how to find jobs and knew what support was available if they were having difficulty paying the SEC.”

On the 26th of November 2018 Financial Aid released an SEC FAQ, which addresses many concerns that a student and his or her family might have regarding the SEC.

Sircar and Lee were also instrumental in informing the Student Government of the issues surrounding the SEC. Since being in contact with Sircar and Lee, an informal Student Government survey conducted by Class of 2022 Representative Taesun Shim found that about 75 percent of the 75 respondents said that they were unaware of the SEC before they saw that they had 1,500 SGD due on their bill and 45 percent of respondents said that they found paying off the SEC to be “borderline impossible”.

On January 22nd, the Senate passed a resolution condemning the SEC “for disadvantaging already underprivileged students against the expressed ethos of this College and its community, and against the core principles of inclusivity of our Financial Aid philosophy.” The resolution also calls for greater support to those students on the SEC in the form of SEC payment waivers for certain students and a lowered SEC amount for all students, a continued dialogue on how the S$1,500 amount was chosen, greater support for students who need to secure employment, quantitative and qualitative data gathering regarding the SEC and financial aid in general and more.

Dean of Students Joanne Roberts sent an email on January 24th to the student body that responds to some of the concerns laid out in the Senate resolution. She said, “I want to assure all students that our commitment to access remains core to our ethos and this has never changed.” She said that the SEC represented one of many means through which the college allocates money impactfully and efficiently, and that the funds obtained through the SEC go towards things like co-payments, support for unpaid internships and other things that financially less advantaged students will ultimately benefit from.

Executive Vice President Kristen Lynas, who oversees many of the college’s functions including Finance and Admissions and Financial aid, said, “The point that the Senate resolution appears to miss is that implementing the Student Effort Contribution is needed to ensure that we have the capacity to honor our commitment to accessibility. The alternative would be to limit the number of students with financial need at our College and that, in my opinion, would be against the ethos of Yale-NUS.”

While the Senate resolution claims that the administration has said that “budgetary concerns were not the impetus or rationale for the implementation of the SEC”, the administration appears to see the SEC as one of many measures needed to ensure the College’s continued financial stability. President Tan Tai Yong said, “We have become a victim of our own success because our good reputation has spread and an increasing number of applicants are applying for financial aid. We are going to face a crunch, and unless we employ financially responsible policies now, we might have to lower aid or significantly raise fees across the board in the future, both of which we do not want to do.”

Both President Tan and Dean Roberts acknowledged that communication about the SEC could be improved, but they emphasize the fact that an explanation of the SEC came in the acceptance letter of all students currently on it, and admitted students are invited to contact members of the Financial Aid team with questions any time prior to matriculation. Individual financial aid consultations are also available throughout a student’s enrolment at Yale-NUS.

Moving forward, Dean Roberts has said that the administration plans to be much clearer on what the SEC is, why it exists, and how students can go about paying it, especially during Experience Yale-NUS Weekend, which takes place before students make their final decision on whether or not to enroll.

Financial Aid encourages those on the SEC to reach out to them for clarifications or assistance. Support available to those on the SEC include interest-free loans to defer payment of the SEC as well as employment assistance from Center for International and Professional Experience.

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