Columbia and Princeton lag on aid reform

The ever-growing club of financial-aid reformers recently welcomed two more inductees — Brown and Stanford universities. But as the list of schools grows larger, two Ivies, Columbia and Princeton, are notably missing, and now all eyes are on them.

Financial-aid reform has been a popular trend in the Ivy League in recent months, and Princeton and Columbia remain the only two of the Ancient Eight that have not yet jumped on the bandwagon. Harvard’s initial announcement in Dec. 2007 ignited a domino effect, and plans were soon revealed by Yale, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and Brown.

As a result of Harvard’s financial-aid overhaul, families with incomes between $60,000 and $120,000 will contribute less than 10 percent of their incomes, while households earning between $120,000 and $180,000 will pay 10 percent. Yale’s new program, which was announced a month later, is nearly identical, although it extends the aid to families earning up to $200,000.

But a new financial-aid package does not seem likely for Princeton. Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said the university has been implementing the same reforms announced by Yale and Harvard since 2001. Eliminating loans? Princeton did that in 2001. And expanding financial aid to middle-income families? This year, the school awarded grants averaging $17,100 to 80 percent of households with incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 to the class of 2011, Cliatt said.

Still, Princeton has felt pressure from its student body to announce a sweeping financial-aid reform like its fellow Ivies. A February editorial in the Daily Princetonian suggested that the Princeton administration does not want the university to be seen as following the pack, or playing catch-up to other schools.

But Cliatt insists that the school’s lack of major financial-aid reform this year does not mean Princeton is lagging behind. Rather, she said, the school has been a leader for some time.

“How does one ‘catch up,’ so to speak, when you’re the one setting the pace?” Cliatt said.

Columbia’s administration is hearing similar demands from its student body. The undergraduate student government organization, the Columbia College Student Council, passed a resolution in February urging the administration to increase the number of families who are able to benefit from financial aid.

Columbia seems more likely than Princeton to announce some kind of reform in the near future. University President Lee Bollinger recently held a “fireside chat” — an informal talk with students and faculty — at which he discussed the need for undergraduate financial-aid reform. The administration is currently discussing ideas and waiting to make any announcements so they can unveil the best plan possible, The Columbia Spectator, Columbia’s student newspaper, reported in February.

The Columbia Office of Public Affairs declined to comment for this story.

Princeton’s endowment as of the 2006-’07 school year was $15.8 billion, while Columbia’s is $5.94 billion. In comparison, Yale has an endowment of $22.5 billion, and Harvard’s is $34.9 billion.

Although Yale administrators said they are not privy to the decisions of other Ivies, the competitive nature of high-ranking institutions is leading some to believe that more announcements may take place in the near future.

Caesar Storlazzi, Yale’s director of student financial services, acknowledged that competition among peer institutions can be a driving force in financial-aid decisions at top-tier universities.

“I am certain that the other Ivies are keeping an eye on their policies at all times in the light of other schools’ announcements and initiatives,” Storlazzi said. “Competition isn’t the only driver, but it is certainly one factor.”

But Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said financial-aid policies among the Ivies have always varied because of different circumstances and priorities.

“[The Ivies] have each always had strong individual identities and quite significant disparities as well,” Brenzel said. “Financial aid has hardly been uniform among the Ivies, either in the past or now.”

Storlazzi thinks it is more likely that Princeton, rather than Columbia, will announce a policy revision in the near future, but said it is nearly impossible to determine because universities keep their plans under wraps. In the hopes of swaying prospective students’ matriculations, it is possible that both universities may be waiting to unveil aid reforms just prior to the mailing of admission decisions on Apr. 1, he said.

Princeton freshman Stephanie Stern said she thinks the general attitude on campus is that current aid policies are adequate.

“There definitely isn’t unrest on the Princeton campus about financial aid,” she said. “If you need money, Princeton will give you money.”

Most Yale students interviewed said the prestige of Princeton and Columbia carried more weight than their respective financial-aid packages when they made their application decisions. Furthermore, some said, the plans’ focus on middle-income families would not affect the students who are most in need of financial aid.

Antonio Ingram ’11 said Princeton has one of the best financial-aid programs to begin with and probably doesn’t need to do much reform. He also pointed out that the majority of the previously announced reforms are aimed at middle-class families that already have less difficulty paying tuition.

“Princeton and Columbia shouldn’t feel pressure to grant money to people who can already afford tuition,” Ingram said. “What are they going to do with the money they saved — buy a new Versace dress or go to Europe a few extra times?”

Some students cited the prestige of Princeton and Columbia as a reason they would not hesitate to submit an application, although they said available aid would ultimately factor into their decisions whether to matriculate.

“[Financial aid policies] would not affect my decision to apply because of the caliber of both universities,” said Czestochowa Francois ’11. “It might, however, affect which school I choose to attend.”

Despite the pressure and speculation, there are really no concrete answers from either university about their future plans. But the fact that there has been no official statement from either group suggests there could be an announcement looming in the future.

The most recent announcements were issued by Brown and Stanford on Feb. 23 and Feb. 20, respectively.

Comments

  • alum

    Even if the other Ivies & top schools reform aid, none of them will have the financial resources to match what Harvard, Yale and Princeton can do.

    Some of the other schools have made announcements, but what they are offering now just doesn't match HYP.