Harvard: Financial aid for the middle class

Finally, some good news for middle-class parents staggered by soaring college tuition, said Susan Kinzie in The Washington Post. In a bold move that its peers will likely emulate, Harvard is expanding its financial-aid package so that many of its 6,600 un

Finally, some good news for middle-class parents staggered by soaring college tuition, said Susan Kinzie in The Washington Post. In a bold move that its peers will likely emulate, Harvard is expanding its financial-aid package so that many of its 6,600 undergraduates will get some relief. Starting in 2008, families earning $60,000 and up will pay only a small percentage of Harvard’s annual $45,600 tuition, under a sliding scale based on income. Even families earning between $120,000 and $180,000 will pay only 10 percent of their annual income in tuition—an amount comparable to that charged at many state universities. This isn’t just “another benefit for the rich,” said the Toledo Blade in an editorial. Harvard’s target audience is white-collar families that are mortgaging their homes and going into debt to give their kids a decent college education, all but a necessity in the 21st-century job market. “The sad truth is that $100,000 just isn’t what it used to be.”

Don’t start “applauding Harvard’s altruism too loudly,” said The Wall Street Journal. With $35 billion in its endowment fund, the school is meting out just $22 million per year for the new tuition assistance—not exactly a huge sacrifice. And Harvard decided to free up that sum only because it “had its back against a wall.” The mammoth size of its endowment is attracting attention, and this fall the Senate Finance Committee held hearings on whether rich universities should spend more of their money to reduce skyrocketing tuition. It’s a fair question.

Harvard’s new aid plan may help the elite students whom it admits, said Fay Vincent, also in the Journal. But it only adds to the advantage that it and other rich schools such as Princeton and Duke already have over state universities and less affluent private colleges. Small schools without giant endowments cannot hope to absorb such a large percentage of tuition costs. That means a student can choose to pay a small college $30,000, or Harvard $18,000. Soon, “the cost of the educational Mercedes will be less than the educational Ford.” The word “Mercedes” is no exaggeration, said Anthony Bianco in BusinessWeek. In recent years, Harvard and other Ivy League schools have sunk tens of millions into luxury dorms, state-of-the-art student centers, and ultramodern research facilities to pamper students and faculty alike. “For better or worse, the infusion of riches at the Ivy schools has dramatically extended their lead over everyone else.” Tuition may be going down, but the rich, once again, are getting richer.

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