Some opponents of Northwestern University’s plan to rebuild Ryan Field suggest Evanston should reject the idea of concerts at the new stadium unless the school makes big payments in lieu of property taxes to the city.

They frequently cite a recent increase in Yale University’s payments to New Haven, Connecticut, as a model.


More coverage of the Ryan Field plans.


Here are some comparisons between the two schools and the two cities that might inform a discussion about how much Evanston might reasonably hope to get.

Endowment and enrollment

Yale, with an enrollment of just under 12,000 students, has a total endowment of over $42 billion, according to the latest report from the National Association of College and University Business officers, or about $3.5 million per student.

The same study says Northwestern, with an enrollment of just under 23,000 students, has a total endowment of just under $15 billion, or about $652,000 per student.

So Northwestern’s endowment per student is less than one fifth the size of Yale’s.

The communities

All of Yale’s campus is located in New Haven. About half of Northwestern’s students study in Evanston, the other half in Chicago. Here are some key demographic indicators for each community.

New HavenEvanstonChicago
Per capita income$29,348$57,626$41,821
Percent in poverty24.6%11.9%$17.1%
Population135,08177,5172,696,555
Percent housing owner occupied28.0%56.4%45.6%
Median value of owner-occupied housing units$207,600$410,600$277,600
Source: U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts

So we see that:

  • Per capita income in Evanston is 96% higher than in New Haven.
  • Half as many Evanston residents live in poverty.
  • Evanston’s population is only 57% as great as New Haven’s.
  • Twice as many Evanstonians own the homes they live in.
  • The median value of owner-occupied homes is nearly twice as high here.

As a result, an observer could conclude that New Haven has a much greater need for a bailout from its local university than Evanston does.

Aside from its much larger population, the figures for Chicago are somewhere between the numbers for New Haven and Evanston.

Credit rating of city government

One indication of how much stress a city’s finances are under — and thus their need for a bailout — is the rating they have from bond rating agencies.

Evanston’s latest bond rating from S&P is “AA/Stable” and from Fitch it’s “AA+/Stable” — or “very high credit quality.” By comparison, New Haven has a “BBB” rating from Fitch, two rating steps down and considered only “good credit quality.”

History of support

A Yale news release announcing the expanded aid program in November 2021 noted that the school has been making voluntary payments to New Haven since 1990, with increases in 2005 and 2019.

It says the school had already agreed to pay $13.2 million to the city in 2022 and that the new agreement boosted that amount by $10 million — with the additional payments scheduled to continue for just over five years.

Local news coverage of Yale’s announcement noted that the new deal was more than a year in the making. It also followed an agreement by the the State of Connecticut to increase state aid to communities that are home to tax exempt colleges and hospitals.

Previously leaders of city employee unions had pushed for the school to increase its handout — something employee unions at Yale itself had also campaigned for, distributing yard signs reading “Yale: Respect New Haven.”

And it wasn’t smooth sailing to an agreement. In March 2020, the mayor — as he proposed deep pandemic-related public safety budget cuts — called on the university to live up to an “ethical responsibility” to contribute more financially to the city.

The university president responded: “I do not believe that New Haven’s books should be balanced largely by Yale University writing dramatically bigger checks.”

After a long period of tense relations between Northwestern and Evanston, the school has been making contributions to Evanston in the $1 million ballpark for more than a half dozen years, including paying $800,000 for a new fire engine late last year.

With a new university president at Northwestern and a relatively new mayor at the city, it may just be possible that some new deal could be on the horizon.

But given the differences between the two schools and the two towns, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath waiting to see Northwestern start cutting $23 million checks to Evanston.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

  1. About two decades ago Yale had a program of giving grants of $30,000 to any university employee to help buy a home in New Haven. I don’t know if they still are doing this, but it mattered a lot to lower salaried employees and perhaps even to folks like teaching assistants. The New Haven Public Library had classes for “new home owners” about how to negotiate the new responsibilities of home ownership.
    It was a creative town-gown partnership.

  2. Cudos to EN for a very informative and relevant piece of reporting. Hopefully it has opened up others’ eyes in addition to my own. Thank you!

  3. I’m a New Haven resident and Yale faculty member who sent a daughter to Northwestern and has family in Evanston, so have spent considerable time there–great town! It was interesting to walk the Turkey Trot in November to see the extent to which both Yale and NW are intertwined with their cities. Yale owns 10% of NH’s taxable property base, and it’s tax-exempt under CT law. Looks as if the proportion might be higher in Evanston, and one assumes NW pays not other taxes save on the commercial property they might own, just like here.

    The writer correctly observes that New Haven is a largely poor New England post-industrial town. Here the major industry is the University and we don’t have a Chicago nearby, and Evanston is far less diverse, poor, and struggling. And so Yale should provide much more support, and it does, but 23x Northwestern? Left out of this story is that the universities in both towns avail themselves of infrastructure, fire and emergency protection, and other services which cost the town money. The city needs the support. But it does come from a lot of other sources: students spend money in town, and most importantly the Yale workforce is heavily unionized, very powerful, and extremely well-paid, and Yale is the city’s largest employer.

    While it’s pretty easy to toss around endowment numbers, important to remember that almost all that money is encumbered, meaning unless the originating donor says “give the money to the city or use for whatever you wish,” the proceeds must be spent on the intention of the gift. It’s not just a pile of cash available for any use. You can’t redirect money given for financial aid to support the New Haven schools.

    Finally, per student in town, Yale pays New Haven about $2,000 for every student per year ($23M over 12K) while Northwestern pays $80 ($1M over 12.5K in Evanston), plus a firetruck. I assume the home-owning, wealthier taxpayers of Evanston are happy to make up the difference?

    1. This is one of the best examinations of town-gown. NU has a unique tax-exempt status that its property, used for any purpose, is free from tax, not just property used for educational purposes. NU’s commercial property, leased to others, is subject to a lease-hold tax that goes to Evanston. The focus should be not on what is legally required but what is the right thing to do for residents and the university community.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *