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Harvard: No Tuition For Parents Making Under 60K Annually

By Karen W. Arenson

The quest by prestigious colleges to attract more low- and middle-income students is turning into a financial aid arms race.

Harvard University, which two years ago focused attention on the paucity of low-income students in the Ivy League with its announcement that it would not ask parents who earned less than $40,000 a year to contribute money for their children’s education, said March 30 that it would raise that ceiling to $60,000 for students entering this fall.

The students themselves will still be expected to make some payments from jobs they hold.

Harvard’s president, Lawrence H. Summers, said in a statement, “There is no more important mission for Harvard and higher education than promoting equality of opportunity for all.”

He said the financial aid increases “send a clear signal to middle-class families who have all too often felt that Harvard and other leading universities are out of reach.”

In 1998, Princeton, one of the colleges with the highest endowment per student, announced that it would replace loans with grants for students from families with annual incomes less than $46,500. Five years ago, it extended that policy to all undergraduates. That was a move that few colleges felt ready to match.

But since Harvard’s announcement in 2004, there has been a succession of announcements of higher-aid programs by top-tier colleges.

Also in 2004, Brown said that a $100 million gift to the university would allow it to replace loans with grants for about 135 students.

Last year, Yale said it would eliminate the contribution required of parents earning less than $45,000, an plan similar to Harvard’s.

This month there has been a profusion of announcements. In early March, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it would begin matching the federal Pell Grants that its low-income students got. Pell grants are currently $4,050 a year.

M.I.T., which will charge $43,550 for tuition, housing and meals, said that 16 percent of its undergraduates came from homes with incomes below $42,000, and that 90 percent of its undergraduates qualified for financial aid.

Stanford University said this month that it would eliminate the parental contribution for families with annual incomes below $45,000. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania said it would replace loans with grants for undergraduates from economically disadvantaged families with incomes of $50,000 or less.

Some financial aid officials applauded the announcements.

“If you step back and forget my role as a financial aid director and focus on helping needy students, this is great,” Michael D. Bartini, director of financial aid at Brown, said March 30.