Campus & Community

Harvard expands financial aid for students choosing public service:

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New initiative to make Harvard education more affordable for students who wish to pursue public service careers

President Lawrence H. Summers announced a new initiative Wednesday (Jan. 15) that will make a Harvard education more accessible and affordable for talented students who wish to pursue careers in public service. In a series of steps designed to ease financial burdens for students in fields that do not offer high financial returns, the University has established:

  • A Presidential Scholars program, providing $14 million in grants to top master’s and doctoral students in public service fields and in academic disciplines;
  • A universal-access loan program, in partnership with Citibank, which will make available loans at below-market rates with no fees to all graduate and professional school students, domestic or international, up to the cost of attendance at Harvard; and
  • A University Graduate Student Aid Fund designed to encourage giving for students choosing public service careers.

“Enabling top students to come to Harvard to prepare for careers in public service or academic fields is a top priority,” said Summers. “It has long been true at Harvard College that no talented student is prevented from coming here because of an inability to pay. The same should be true of the most able students who come to Harvard to be scholars, doctors, architects, or teachers.”

“This initiative could not come at a better time,” said Joseph S. Nye Jr., dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “The world situation demands the best minds attacking complex issues with expertise and sound judgment, and these programs will help us to attract and train top talent. President Summers said when he arrived that he wanted to increase support for public service, and these programs represent important progress toward that goal.”

Presidential Scholars grants and University Aid Fund

The Presidential Scholars program will provide $14 million in grant aid to students entering Harvard over the next three years to pursue public service or research careers in eight of Harvard’s graduate and professional schools – the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Kennedy School of Government, the Graduate School of Education, the School of Public Health, the Medical School, the Dental School, the Divinity School, and the School of Design. These grants are over and above the approximately $74 million in institutional grants provided yearly by those schools.

Funded initially from existing University funds, the program will be expanded in coming years as part of a broader effort to raise funds for public service-related teaching and research across the University. “This program represents a down payment on our broader goal,” Summers said. “We will work very hard in the years ahead to raise funds to increase its scope and impact.”

To that end, Harvard has established a University Graduate Student Aid Fund and created incentives to stimulate gifts to support public service-related research and teaching across the University. Gifts to this fund will be used both to expand the Presidential Scholars program and to increase financial aid within individual Schools.

Historically, alumni of one School have been asked and then recognized primarily for contributions to the School from which they graduated. Under a new fundraising policy, graduates of the Business School or the College, for instance, who are interested in improving public schooling or global health, will be recognized for gifts to the Graduate School of Education or the School of Public Health. This change is expected to increase support for public service activities across the University.

Top students in a wide range of programs will be eligible for grants under the Presidential Scholars program. For example, funds under this program will go to:

  • Students at the Graduate School of Education pursuing research directed at improving our public schools;
  • Newly trained graduates of the Medical School offering primary care in medically underserved communities;
  • Top Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences;
  • Students who come to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to prepare for careers in state and local government;
  • Students from developing countries who come to the School of Public Health to study epidemiology or population and international health.

Because programs of study and student needs vary widely across the University, each School will use its Presidential Scholarship funds in different ways. Grant monies have been allocated by the University based on proposals submitted by the Schools outlining their priorities for use of the funds and their plans for evaluating the success of the program in meeting specified objectives.

Harvard Educational Loan Program (HELP)

The new HELP loans, offered by the University in partnership with Citibank through its subsidiary, the Student Loan Corporation, will provide universal access to loan funding across the University. Any student, domestic or international, who is enrolled at one of Harvard’s graduate or professional schools on at least a part-time basis will be eligible up to the full cost of attendance at Harvard, beyond amounts covered by other forms of financial aid, typically grants and federal student loans. With this program, Harvard is extending to students seeking public service careers a financing model traditionally reserved to students at the nation’s top business schools.

HELP loans will be offered with no fees at below-market rates – initially 4 1/8 percent – beginning this spring. Currently, Harvard graduate and professional students borrow approximately $45 million per year from non-federal sources to help pay tuition and fees, as well as living expenses such as rent, food, and transportation. Based on projected loan volume, the HELP program can be expected to save graduate students between $1.25 million and $4 million per year.

A given student in a two-year Master’s in Public Policy program with $20,000 per year in alternative loans will save $2,500 over the life of his or her loans. The new loan program will also permit Harvard students to avoid the prohibitive expense of relying on credit card and other forms of personal debt to cover education-related expenses.

“This is a very important breakthrough,” said Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “As much as we all wish it were otherwise, loans are a fact of life for students across the country. It is crucial, therefore, that students receive the best possible financial terms. This is real money, and these loans will make a real difference.”

International students are not eligible for student loans provided by the federal government, which are the primary source of funding for the vast majority of domestic graduate and professional students. Most international students, however talented and determined, cannot even consider a Harvard education.

“Our mission is global in its essence,” said Barry Bloom, dean of the School of Public Health. “We are involved in promoting health on nearly every continent, and we ought to be training the most talented and dedicated students, the future leaders, from around the world so that they can return to address the pressing health needs of their home countries. With this new loan program, coming to the School of Public Health is for the first time a realistic possibility for large numbers of students from developing countries.”

The new loan program will be financed and serviced by Citibank through its subsidiary, the Student Loan Corporation, with Harvard and Citibank sharing financial risk. HELP does not include federal loans, which Harvard offers through the Federal Direct Student Loan program. Citibank was chosen as part of a competitive bidding process in which nine financial institutions submitted proposals that were evaluated based on level of risk to the University; student access to loans and simplicity of terms and process; interest rates offered to students; collections capability, particularly experience with international students; loan servicing; flexible repayment and deferment options; and other factors.