Stanford overhauls financial aid policy

A year after Yale announced sweeping changes to its financial aid policy, Stanford University outlined similar reforms last week.

The change, announced Wednesday, eliminates required contributions for families with annual incomes of less than $45,000 and reduces the contribution for families earning between $45,000 and $60,000 a year. The policy changes — which will cost the university approximately $3 million next year — will go into effect this September and will benefit both current and incoming Stanford undergraduates, Stanford Associate Dean and Director of Financial Aid Karen Cooper said.

Last spring, Yale President Richard Levin announced Yale would remove the parent contribution for students from families earning under $45,000 and reduce it for students from families earning between $45,000 and $60,000. Two years ago, Harvard eliminated the parent contribution for families with an income under $40,000 and reduced it for those earning between $40,000 and $60,000.

Cooper said she hopes to move will diversify Stanford’s student body.

“Our major motivating factor was the national research that says that talented low-income students who are well-prepared are not applying to well-known institutions such as Stanford and Yale in the same numbers as other students,” she said.

Yale and Harvard administrators said Stanford’s move points to a trend of providing greater access to higher education for students from low-income families.

Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 said he was pleased by Stanford’s decision, especially considering that increasing tuition fees at state universities and a movement away from need-based aid at private and public universities have diminished access to higher education.

“I think in this context it is particularly important for the universities fully dedicated to need-based aid, places such as Yale and Stanford, to continue focusing public attention on keeping the door open for disadvantaged students,” he said.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate admissions, said the move suggests increasing accessibility in higher education.

“Of course it is a terrific thing for future Stanford students and another sign that the very best institutions are making a concerted effort to help students with very modest family incomes,” she said in an e-mail. “It is good for the country, therefore, too.”

Cooper said that while Stanford President John Hennessy promised last spring this financial aid change would be made in the next five years, newly appointed Stanford Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Richard Shaw “spearheaded” the change. Shaw served as dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale for 13 years before leaving for Stanford last summer.

Yale Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said he believes Shaw’s cross-country move accounts for the similarities between the two schools’ revised financial aid policies.

“We’re not surprised that Stanford’s new initiative looks a lot like Yale’s,” he said. “This development will cause many schools to look at their aid programs carefully. However, many will not be able to make this kind of bold and innovative move due to budget restraints.”

David Hawkins, director of public policy at the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, said that while Stanford’s change is significant, it is unlikely to have a domino effect among higher education institutions.

“There are not many four-year colleges that can support that kind of pledge,” he said. “To the extent that this is a trend, it will only continue for colleges that have the ability to do it.”

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