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Harvard To Increase Low-Income Support

Help for families making under $60,000

By Ray C. He


Harvard College announced a new financial aid policy on Feb. 28 that would increase the average financial aid award for students whose family incomes are less than $60,000.

According to a March 1 announcement by Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers ’75 in the Harvard University Gazette, students whose family incomes are less than $40,000 will no longer pay the average $2,300 contribution that results from financial aid calculations. Additionally, Summer said that students with family incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 will see an average decrease of $1,250 in parental contribution.

“What we're doing is paying closer attention to lower and moderate income families,” said Sally C. Donahue, director of financial aid at Harvard College. “We think that families under that threshold simply don't have the resources to help with college expense.”

This change in policy is part of an overall trend of increase in financial aid received by students. “Harvard College's nearly $80 million in scholarships for undergraduates in the coming year represents a 49 [percent] increase over the past six years when inflation rose by only 13.5 [percent],” the announcement said.

The income limits will increase relative to inflation and other factors, Donahue said. “Every year we go back in and take a look at everything, the cost of attendance goes up, our scholarship budget goes up by quite a bit.”

MIT will continue current system

In light of the change at Harvard, MIT Student Financial Services plans “to continue doing what we do best and achieving success in recruiting, enrolling, and graduating one of the most diverse student bodies with significant numbers of first-generation college students,” said Elizabeth M. Hicks, Executive Director of Student Financial Services.

“We think that what Harvard has done should be commended because what they're doing is sending a very strong message to the American public that institutions like Harvard and MIT are doing a lot to ensure access to post-secondary education,” she said.

“In the last five years, our undergraduate scholarship budget has increased 64 percent, while the consumer price index increased 13 percent,” she said. Undergraduate tuition has increased 18.4 percent in the past five years, from $25,000 in 1999 to $29,600 in 2003.

Even with the net decline in MIT’s endowment, Hicks said that the financial aid office will still meet student need. “It’s a commitment of this institution that we make use of endowed financial aid funds and other sources of funding to support undergraduate scholarships,” she said.

Even though student financial services requires the free application for Federal Student Aid and the College Scholarship Service Profile to apply for financial aid, “we use our own methodology to compute financial aid eligibility,” said Hicks.

No change in Harvard’s general method

Donahue said that Harvard’s new initiative will not change the college’s general method for calculating financial aid.

“We continue to use the federal methodology and the institutional methodology,” Donahue said. “We’ll remain a need-based system,” she said.

The change comes from student focus groups and feedback on the financial aid system in the fall, she said.

“Even though the formula may come up with an expected contribution from their parents, their parents couldn’t come up with this,” and the students would end up paying for the family contributions, she said. Under the new plan, financial aid packages will still contain a student contribution.

The new policy is not completely bound to the $40,000 and $60,000 limits, she said. “I wouldn’t call it a cutoff, I’d call it a guideline.”

“There’s a fair bit of professional judgement that takes into consideration other things that come into play, such as medical expenses, roofs falling in, you name it,” she said.