Campus & Community

Harvard expands financial aid for low- and middle-income families

4 min read

Families with incomes of less than $80,000 will benefit

Reinforcing its commitment to opportunity and excellence across the economic spectrum, Harvard today (March 30) announced a significant expansion of its 2004 financial aid initiative for low- and middle-income families. Beginning with the class admitted this week, parents in families with incomes of less than $60,000 will no longer be expected to contribute to the cost of their children attending Harvard. In addition, Harvard will reduce the contributions of families with incomes between $60,000 and $80,000.

The new income thresholds build on the program announced two years ago, which provided that families with incomes below $40,000 would not be expected to contribute to the cost of education, with a reduced contribution for families with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000. (See 2004 release) The number of students enrolled at Harvard from these income brackets increased by 24 percent for the class entering this past fall – the first full year of the program.

“There is no more important mission for Harvard and higher education than promoting equality of opportunity for all,” said President Lawrence H. Summers. “We are fortunate to have significant resources, and there is no better way to use them than to support families seeking to provide the best possible opportunities for their children. These increases in financial aid build on and extend our emphasis on recruiting students from low-income backgrounds, and send a clear signal to middle-class families who have all too often felt that Harvard and other leading universities are out of reach.”

Harvard is also revising its policy on outside awards won by incoming students, ranging from scholarships provided by local community groups to programs such as the National Merit and Gates Millennium Scholarships. Students will now be able to apply these awards to eliminate their summer savings obligations. Previously, outside awards could be used to offset the $3,650 self-help expectation toward the cost of attendance, but did not apply to the summer savings obligation of $2,150.

Overall financial aid

“We are very pleased to offer such exceptional financial support to our undergraduates,” said William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which oversees Harvard College. “Even before these enhancements, the financial aid budget for next year was projected at $90 million, a 6.2 percent increase over last year, and a 65 percent increase over the past six years. This new initiative will add an additional $2.4 million annually. Although many students and families might find this hard to believe, Harvard is actually more affordable for many students than public colleges or universities.”

Two-thirds of Harvard students receive financial aid, and the average grant award for next year is expected to be more than $33,000, or 70 percent of the total cost of attendance. In the past decade, Harvard has reduced the median four-year debt for graduating seniors from more than $16,000 to $6,400 – less than one-third of the national average of $20,000.

Expanding the reach of the 2004 financial aid initiative

“Since its inception two years ago, the financial aid initiative aimed at families with incomes below $40,000 has had an enormous impact in attracting students of all backgrounds to Harvard’s applicant pool,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “The message that Harvard is open to all talented students continues to resonate and the momentum the program has created has encouraged students to consider colleges they had never imagined before.”

Raising the income thresholds for the financial aid initiative to a level above the median family income in the United States is meant to address the very real dilemmas felt by families struggling to balance rising living expenses and the cost of higher education.

“Our financial aid initiative has been very successful in attracting students from the lower income ranges, and we see it as an important step in attracting more students from middle-income families, where our application rates are lower than they should be,” said Summers. “If there are thousands of highly qualified students not applying to Harvard, we need to find ways to address that problem. Middle-income relief is one of the steps we are taking, but we also want to reach out to these students in other ways.”

In its ongoing effort to attract the best students, Harvard continues to seek talented students across the nation with intensive recruiting by the Office of Admissions, faculty, alumni, and a team of undergraduates.

“Students who have benefited from the financial aid initiative are anxious to give back to the program by working with students who come from similar backgrounds,” Fitzsimmons said. “We hope that as we increase the number of students who benefit from the program, we will inspire students from every economic background to consider the full range of our nation’s colleges and universities.”