With financial aid levels at their highest level in the storied school’s history, Harvard has has seen a significant rise in applications over the past few years, topping 35,000 for the first time since its founding nearly four centuries ago. In a recent interview with The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, the college’s dean of admission and financial aid, William Fitzsimmons told a reporter, “Financial aid continues to be a major factor in students’ decisions to apply to Harvard.”
As of last year, according to the school’s financial aid data, well over half of all Harvard students received some sort of financial aid and pay an average annual tuition between $11,000 and $12,000 — which is less than the tuition rates at many large public universities. All students are expected to contribute to their own tuition to the extent that they and their families can, but Harvard, with one of the world’s largest university endowments, has maintained a policy of assisting those with fine minds — regardless of economic circumstances — attend the school.
The school’s endowment paid out more than $170 million in financial aid for the current academic year. Students whose families earn less than $65,000 are not required to contribute to their tuition at all. Such generosity is common among some of the best-known, best-funded private colleges; it is the foundation of a policy known as need blind admissions, which basically guarantees four years of college to students who are admitted regardless of their ability to pay. Such policies have been questioned at many schools lately, such as Wesleyan and Grinnell, because need blind admission puts a considerable strain on endowments that are already stretched thin by trying financial times.
At Harvard, for example, even families with annual incomes greater that exceed $150,000 can qualified for aid under certain circumstances. Families receiving aid are typically not expected to contribute more than 10 percent of their annual income. Like Harvard, other schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, Texas A &M and Texas Tech all offer tuition waivers for students whose families earn below a certain threshold. Stanford University has one of — if not the — highest threshold for a tuition waiver: if your family’s income isn’t into six figures, and you’re accepted based on your application, you can attend Stanford for free.
Of course, such programs are not unlimited. Try as they might, colleges that offer tuition waivers and generous aid packages are not all as deep-pocketed as Harvard. The aid is typically allocated for an entire year and doled out on a first come, first serve basis until it runs out. Moreover, practically all schools that offer such waivers reserve the right to retract the offers if they have too many applicants. But their institutional hearts are in the right place.
Once again, this all goes back to the need blind tuition policies at such schools. The main problem is that many of the students who need such tuition help are not the ones with the academic track records to get into Harvard or Stanford or Dartmouth. Rather, they are the “B” students who come from lower and middle class backgrounds. Their grades and SAT/ACT scores are good enough for many, if not most colleges, but their financial situations are not.
They’ll just have to stand at the wrought iron gates of academia, like most students, and hope their state and federal financial aid will cover the cost of college.