March 6, 2001

Harvard Increases Student Aid, Adds to Need-Based Packages

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In a blockbuster move that ups the ante for undergraduate financial aid policy changes across the country, Harvard College recently announced that it will give all scholarship recipients an extra $2,000 in need-based assistance.

Effective next year, this change will reduce the amount students receiving financial aid will contribute from loans or student employment from $5,150 per year to $3,150.

“The new financial aid program ensures that, no matter what their resources, all our students can embrace and enjoy the possibilities here without carrying a significant burden of term-time work,” said Jeremy R. Knowles, Harvard dean of the faculty, in an official university statement.

The move was motivated by concerns that students’ obligations to fill the self-help requirement of their packages might be detracting from their college experiences as well as their future career choices, Knowles added.

Harvard’s initiative, which came in the wake of Princeton’s announcement to replace student loans with outright financial grants, should not be viewed as a direct response, said Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath-Lewis.

“We’ve been planning this one for a long time,” McGrath-Lewis told The Harvard Crimson. “It’s the time of year we always announce tuition and financial aid packages.”

“This is sort of a February ritual,” she added.

Cornell Prof. Ronald G. Ehrenberg was not caught by surprise by Harvard’s financial aid initiative, given that Harvard is one of the few institutions in the country with an endowment comparable to Princeton’s.

“Harvard, in a sense, trumped over Princeton and took the more honorable road by indicating that it is important for students to work for some of their tuition,” Ehrenberg said.

Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III emphasized the educational value of work-study. However, Rawlings admitted that Cornell, along with almost every other college in the country, does not have the endowment funds to compete with Harvard and Princeton.

“We’ve found over the years that students actually benefit from contributing themselves,” Rawlings said.

He added that programs such as the Cornell Tradition, Meinig Family National Scholars and Presidential Research Scholars were implemented to encourage and reward students for these efforts.

Sudha Nandagopal ’03, who divides her time between classes and working for On-Site Volunteer Services, testified to the benefit of working while attending college.

“I think work while in college is a good thing and not necessarily detrimental,” Nandagopal said. “It makes you gain skills that are useful now as well as later in life.”

Some Cornellians, however, were quick to admit their envy over the financial aid bonuses that Harvard and Princeton students will receive next year.

“That’s a lot of money. It would certainly be a big influence if I had to make the college decision over again,” said Ramona Pousti ’04. “I feel like I’m going to be so much in debt when I graduate.”

At Yale University, students have organized a movement for university-wide financial aid reform. Many Yale students have expressed frustration that the administration has not issued a recent statement on financial aid.

“We don’t just want Yale to respond to Harvard and Princeton; we want them to go way beyond,” said Abbey Hudson, a Yale student, outlining the proposal which calls for an elimination of student loans and work-study altogether.

The next step is to submit the proposal to the Yale administration for review, Hudson said, adding that “there are no guarantees, but we’re going after it.”

Susan H. Murphy ’73, the Cornell vice president for student and academic services worried that the new financial aid initiatives among top caliber universities would have the negative consequence of pressuring some less wealthy schools to take money from academic programs in an effort to compete for the best students.

“Oftentimes it’s a question of how to partition resources. Cornell is first and foremost committed to maintaining academic excellence across all disciplines,” Murphy said.

The last time Cornell made substantial changes in its financial aid policy was three years ago when it adopted a “need blind” admissions policy.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts