December 11, 2007

RE: Harvard gives financial aid to rich

Alec’s most recent post (“Harvard gives financial aid to rich”) brings up the interesting question of how financial aid money should be distributed. Alec argues—and I agree—that money should primarily go to those who need it most: students of poor and middle class families. Even with this in mind, Harvard’s new financial aid program—which drastically reduces tuition for families who take in between $120,000 and $180,000—appears to be a good thing. Alec argues,

There is a growing concern that top colleges are only accessible to the children of high earning families. Those kids enjoy many advantages like SAT prep courses, expensive college advisors, and private school education (or a well funded public school education). Harvard's move here seems to only enhance that idea. I loved it when Harvard decided that anyone who makes less than $60,000 goes to Harvard for free. This move seems to undo everything that could have achieved.
But who says Harvard’s new initiative is a zero-sum game? There’s no evidence that Harvard is planning to cut grants to those who need it the most. Those from households earning less than $60,000 a year still won’t have to pay any tuition. And is there really this "growing concern" that elite colleges are only accessible to the rich? It seems like colleges are increasingly pouring money into grants for low-income students. Yes, the sticker price of college is increasing far above the rate of inflation, but the fact is that most people aren't paying the sticker price. Alec goes on to state,
To be honest, Harvard's move seems purely selfish. They probably lose fantastic students every year that choose to go to lower ranked schools that offer great financial aid packages or public schools that are cheaper (like Berkeley).
I suppose this is a “selfish” move by Harvard. It’s selfish because it allows them to get best quality students (and it was also "selfish" to offer a free education to lower- and middle-class students). But is this a bad thing? It’s not only good for Harvard, but it’s also good for students who want to go to Harvard but money is a limiting factor. The main goal of college financial aid should be to take money out of the equation in the one’s college decision. This, of course, is a bit unrealistic, but Harvard’s new program is a step closer to the ideal.