Other Colleges Eye Harvard's Plan to Increase Affordability

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The day after Harvard University announced changes to make the school more affordable for middle-class and upper-middle-class families, some higher education officials said yesterday that they would begin discussions within their schools about how to compete with that program.

The race to lure the best students and ease the ever-rising cost of a college education has already sparked dramatic changes in financial aid, of which Harvard's plan to reduce what families earning less than $180,000 would pay is the most recent example.

Yesterday, the California Institute of Technology announced that it will wipe out loans for the neediest students, those from families earning $60,000 or less, providing grants instead. That follows a model in place at some other elite schools.

Officials at Pomona College said that California school is about to announce a major financial aid initiative, as well, and the Yale student newspaper yesterday quoted President Richard C. Levin as saying the university will unveil major changes to its financial aid in January. A Yale spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

In the past several years, schools including Harvard, Princeton, the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia have rolled out generous financial aid plans to cover costs for low-income students.

Harvard upped the ante Monday by including help for better-off families. Starting next fall, it will no longer require students to take educational loans and no longer include home equity in calculating what a family should pay toward tuition and room and board. The school also announced a new sliding scale to determine what percentage of income families earning as much as $180,000 would be expected to pay.

Princeton, which eliminated loans and initiated some similar changes several years ago, is "delighted that our peers are addressing the challenges faced by middle- and upper-middle-income families," said spokeswoman Cass Cliatt. Harvard's plan, unlike Princeton's, clearly lays out a standard formulation of what families can expect to pay, and Cliatt wrote in an e-mail that university officials will discuss "the features of Harvard's new plan . . . in the context of what we've done."

Don Crewell, the director of financial aid at CalTech, said, "One of the things I will be looking at over the next couple of months is: What would it cost to do something similar to what Harvard is doing?" He noted, though, that Harvard's $35 billion endowment made a big difference in creating such a program. "They're sitting on $30 billion; we're sitting on close to 2 [billion]. There's a big difference, obviously."

At the University of California at Berkeley, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who chairs a committee on financial aid, said, "Certainly in the context of my committee, we [the committee] will use Harvard as an example and try to convince state government to provide us the resources to do something that -- if not identical -- at least moves us in the direction Harvard had moved in."

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