Making summer accessible: Evaluating the burden caused by the College’s summer earnings requirement

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Recently, students have brought up concerns over the College’s summer earnings requirement – the part of a student’s expected family contribution each year to be paid from money earned over the summer. This contribution is $1950 for upperclass students, $1500 for first-years and $1300 for students with low parent contributions. Because this considerable financial expectation is a burden for many, especially first generation and low income students, the Record recommends that the College take steps to alleviate the strain it places on many students and potentially reconsider the requirement.

While it might be ideal to do away with the summer earnings requirement completely, we recognize that doing this is unlikely, costing the College nearly $2 million annually. Moreover, there are certain federal financial aid policies which the College must follow. Already, our requirement is less than those of many of our peer institutions, and students may request that their requirement be waived during one summer. 

That being said, we at the Record believe that the College should reconsider the notion behind the summer earnings requirement – the idea that students make money over the summer, and they therefore have additional funds to contribute to their education. Although well-intentioned, this logic is unrealistic. Many summer internships are unpaid, and even those that are compensated rarely pay much higher than minimum wage. Often, the majority (if not all) of that salary goes towards housing, meals and transportation during the summer. For many students, especially those from low-income households, there is also an expectation to help support their families financially over the summer. Thus, very few students actually have a surplus of money at the end of the summer to contribute to the College; the concept of “summer earnings” does not in fact exist for a large portion of students.

For students with financial stability or with parents willing and able to pay the summer earnings requirement, this is not a problem. Such students can pursue summer opportunities of their choice without worrying about making enough money to contribute to their term bills. For others, however, the contribution may result in the need to forgo formative summer experiences in favor of higher-paying jobs. This creates a socioeconomic discrepancy in the accessibility of summer experiences for students. This must be recognized and addressed in order for every aspect of the College experience to be accessible to low income students; what we do over the summer is part of our education, and that should not be compromised because of financial burdens. 

Therefore, we at the Record recommend that the College take steps to ease the financial pressures placed on low income students over the summer. One such way could be to increase the amount of available funding for unpaid internships. The Alumni Sponsored Internship Program (ASIP) is an excellent resource, but the number of grants is limited. Given that the College is always working to implement new grants and programs, it should look into creating an additional summer fund, perhaps targeted specifically or giving preference to students on financial aid, which would create grants large enough to enable more students to accept unpaid or low-paying internships without worrying that they will be unable to meet their summer earnings requirement as a result. 

In addition, the College should work to increase transparency and responsiveness regarding the details of the summer earnings requirement. Many students are confused about the exact nature of this expense. Communication with the student body can help those concerned about the requirement understand what it means and how best to set themselves up to meet it. 

Although it might be unrealistic to eliminate the summer earnings requirement, we urge the College to consciously reevaluate what it means to assume every student has money to contribute at the end of each summer. As it stands, many students feel the need to pass up unpaid or underpaid summer experiences, in part because of the looming summer earnings requirement. Recognizing this reality and working to institute additional grants and policies could ensure that low income students have the same summer opportunities as those with more socioeconomic privilege. As long as the summer earnings requirement exists, the College has a responsibility to address this burden.