Campus & Community

Admissions Dean Fitzsimmons honored by Access

3 min read

Recognized for his outstanding work ensuring that college is affordable, accessible to all

William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard College’s dean of admissions and financial aid, was honored last night (April 15) by Access, the leading provider of financial aid, scholarships, and valuable advice to Boston high school students. The dean was recognized for his outstanding work ensuring that institutions of higher learning are affordable and accessible to everyone.

At a dinner at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, both Harvard President Drew Faust and the event’s honorary chair, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, lauded Fitzsimmons for his tireless efforts.

Throughout his work at Harvard, first as an admissions officer, then as admissions and financial aid dean since 1986, Fitzsimmons has been a champion of affordability. He has helped make a Harvard education accessible to any worthy student who dreams of attending the University, and, consequently, has enhanced Harvard’s economic and cultural diversity. For years he has traveled the country meeting prospective students from every background and promoting his message of accessibility.

“For nearly a quarter century, Fitz has served as cheerleader, proselytizer, and living testament to Harvard’s commitment to enroll students of extraordinary talent, regardless of their financial circumstances or geographical location,” said Faust.

The dean was a prime mover in the implementation of Harvard’s new financial aid initiative. Announced in 2007, the initiative ensures that students with families whose income is $60,000 can now attend Harvard virtually free. Those with families earning $180,000 will pay only 10 percent of their income in tuition. The sweeping reform was the inspiration for other universities to revise their financial aid initiatives, thereby extending the opportunities it created to university campuses across the country. Fitzsimmons’ success is readily evident in the broad diversity of Harvard’s current class of incoming freshmen.

For Fitzsimmons, the issues of affordability and access are personal. From a working-class background with parents who never went to college, he was — through a combination of scholarships and loans — able to attend Harvard in 1963. After college, he went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“I never would have been able to come to Harvard without what was at that time a full-need-based scholarship, so I was on very large amounts of financial aid,” said Fitzsimmons.

Receiving this award, said Fitzsimmons, would hopefully heighten the awareness of programs like Access and its important message of access to higher education for all.

Each year the Access award recognizes those committed to ensuring Boston youth have the educational opportunities necessary to succeed in higher education. Since it was founded in 1985, Access has helped more than 45,000 students through the financial aid process and awarded more than $4.5 million in scholarships.

Fitzsimmons’ work, said Access Executive Director Bob Giannino-Racine, epitomizes his organization’s mission of helping students and their families afford college.

“The reason we chose Dean Fitzsimmons for this award is bigger than just what he has been able to do to make Harvard a place of accessibility for low- and middle-income kids. It’s also the impact [of] all of the financial aid work that he has led, which … has transform[ed] financial aid across all of higher education in the United States.”

Slide show: ‘Beyond early admissions,’