A new YFAM program launched Oct. 9 lends calculators to students in need, in a bid to reduce academic costs that students often describe as onerous — a particularly acute problem in STEM courses.
Low-income students in STEM courses can now borrow calculators for their exams and studies thanks to an initiative of the Yale First-Gen and Low Income Advocacy Movement, or YFAM.
The program is part of an ongoing effort by campus administration and student groups to increase the accessibility of technology and equipment for everyone. The calculator loan is part of a new wave of programming announced by YFAM, along with a pen-pal mentorship program and a freshman lunch etiquette that connects students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds for conversation.
“[The effort was] worn by students [who] feel like they constantly have to catch up due to lack of access to learning technologies like calculators,” wrote Hedy Tung ’24, Co-Chair of YFAM. “This project was motivated by the need to [those] who can’t afford to pay $120 to buy a graphing calculator…or replace their calculator the night before their exam.
To request a graphing or scientific calculator, students complete a Google form, and shortly thereafter are put in touch with a YFAM agent who will provide you with additional information. The calculator pickup and drop-off location is on the second floor of 55 Whitney Ave., and there are options to borrow a device for one-time use before an exam, monthly use, or semi-annual use.
A $10 deposit fee is charged when acquiring a calculator, but the money is returned to students when the device is returned.
The discourse on spending on studying STEM is not new. A 2019 Ax Item found that STEM course materials at George Washington University cost up to 85% more than their humanities counterparts – and K-12 educators report that even for younger students, developing STEM curricula in particular is an expensive undertaking.
Another 2018 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research said the cost is a two-way street: The administration also typically pours more funding into STEM courses, with the exception of math, citing equipment, research and extracurricular opportunities for students.
Although Yale subsidizes summer study abroad and research through the one-time Summer Experience award, small costs and equipment are generally not covered. For STEM courses in college, this can range from calculators to Achieve number problem set apps to organic chemistry model kits.
“Even with full financial aid, students are often not informed of the additional costs of books and devices needed for them to be successful in their courses,” said Kayla Wong ’25. “Lab coats are currently required for students in STEM courses, and many have had to pay upwards of $50 for them.”
YFAM Co-Chair Jean Tobar ’24 noted that these challenges were exacerbated during the pandemic, when students lacked access to a physical campus for immediate resources.
“I think COVID-19 and virtual learning have made us more aware of how inequitable learning is for many students,” Tobar wrote. “Calculators are just one of the ways low-income students are disadvantaged in STEM courses, but the list goes on and on.”
Tung thanked the FGLI Community Initiative for helping to fund the calculators and stressed that this was not the first or only loan program the FGLI campus groups and administration plan to offer.
There is an ongoing collaboration between the Asian American Cultural House and the Yale College Dean’s Office called Career Closet that allows students to borrow work attire for interviews and formal recreation, although services have been interrupted this semester for security reasons related to COVID-19. she says.
For Andrew Tran ’26, it’s the little things like access to a calculator that make a big difference. He noted that while technology might not seem like a “huge deal” to others, having the right devices is one of the first academic hurdles faced by financially disadvantaged Yalies.
Currently, the dean’s office supports a laptop loan through Safety Net, but Joanna Ruiz ’25 noted that these loans are usually made for emergencies – and there is no option to borrow iPads.
By increasing the bandwidth of people eligible for devices and the diversity of devices offered, more individual situations can be accommodated, such as when computers are slow or the unique demands of specific academic assignments, she said.
Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis did not respond to a request for comment.
“There is also a one-time technology grant of approximately $3700 for those who receive full assistance [and] also receive additional scholarships, but would like to see expanded and more continuous options, especially for scenarios [where] his device is not working properly,” Tran added.
According to Tran, having a multi-year technology grant that allows students to apply for more than one purchase allows for flexibility that would accommodate device malfunctions and allow students to experiment with technology features and resources that suit them best.
Still, the calculator program is a step toward supporting the transition to a relentless and fast-paced Yale learning environment, he said.
According to Tung, YFAM is currently in conversation with department heads, faculty and administration to explore the possibility of adding the Calculator program to the official list of services on the Yale FGLI Community Initiative website. Some professors have already offered to add this program to their curriculum for the next semester, she said, but she hopes that eventually more students will be made aware of this resource.
“Why not even the playground?” asked Ruiz.
The Yale FGLI Community Initiative has an office in 55 Whitney Avenue, Suite 240.