April 7, 2006

Stanford Eliminates Tuition for Lower-Income Students

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Stanford University’s tuition in the 2006-2007 academic year will rise roughly to $32,994, but parents whose combined annual income is under $45,000 will not be expected to pay anything for their children’s education, according to the Stanford financial aid website. Stanford’s new policy follows a trend already set by other elite institutions, including Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stanford parents whose income falls in the bracket between $45,000 and $60,000 will also receive a major break in terms of tuition. Their annual dues will drop to an average of $3,800, roughly half the current average.

Although Stanford’s tuition itself is just under $33,000 after room, board and other expenses, the average annual cost approximately runs up to $47,000. The students who are helped by this policy will be expected to give back to Stanford through summer earnings, work during school and student loans.

Cornell would have great trouble implementing a policy similar to Stanford’s because a larger percentage of its students’ families fit into the affected financial bracket. Additionally, Cornell’s endowment is reportedly $3.3 billion, about one-fourth the size of Stanford’s.

But Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment, stated that Cornell is attracting low-income students in other ways.

“Cornell has one of the most socio-economic diverse student bodies in the country. If you look at the percentage of undergraduate students who receive Pell Grants (federal grants for students whose family income is under $40,000), Cornell was ranked fourth in the country in a recent study,” Davis explained. “It is also worth noting that Cornell recently received a grant from the Jack Cooke Foundation to increase our enrollment of low-income students from community college.”

Stanford’s policy will also be expensive. In the first year alone the new policy will cost an estimated $3 billion. But with an endowment reaching $12.2 billion at the end of the 2005 fiscal year, it is a penalty Stanford seems to be willing to endure.

“We want that message to get out there that we’re a place that all students who are qualified and competitive should look at regardless of their ability to pay,” Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They see the number [$47,000], and they’re scared away.”

But critics say that while helpful, this policy alone will not draw more low-income students into Stanford because across the nation, lower-income students generally have lower board scores, lower class ranks and less preparation for college.

“The reality is that very few students from low-income families would qualify for admission to Stanford or its peers,” Kenneth Redd of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators told the Chronicle. “Stanford is not going to lower its admissions standards to admit more lower-income students.”

But Robin Moscato, an officer in the Princeton financial aid office, told The Sun that there has been a noticeable difference in the time period since Princeton changed its financial aid policy.

“From the class of 2001 through to the class of 2009, the number of low-income students to matriculate at Princeton University has doubled as compared to previous times,” Moscato explained.

Only time will tell whether Stanford’s new policy achieves its goal of attracting more low-income applicants and, in turn, more low-income students.

Archived article by Alex Lebowitz
Sun Staff Writer