Nearly a week after Harvard University President Lawrence Summers announced possible plans to change graduate student financial aid, Harvard officials say they are still unsure what the plans will be or what impact they will have for graduate education.
Speaking at his inauguration as Harvard’s 27th president last Friday, Summers laid out an agenda for his tenure. He emphasized the importance of undergraduate education, and announced his intentions to build a second campus in Allston, across the river from Cambridge.
Among the more unexpected parts of his speech were his remarks on financial aid.
“As proud as we all are that any student, as we so often stress, can attend Harvard College regardless of financial circumstance or need, I say to you that we should not rest until much the same is true of all this great university,” Summers said. “Inability to pay does not constrain students from coming to Harvard College and it should not constrain the most able students from coming here to Harvard to become scholars, or doctors, architects or teachers.”
But Harvard officials said they do not know of any set plans for aid increases for graduate students, and instead described Summers’ plan as a broad outline.
“I think this speech was just a general vision statement of the kinds of things he considered to be important and what will guide and frame his administration,” Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn said. “Larry was definitely speaking in broad brushstrokes.”
Some Harvard administrators questioned how Summers plans to pay for a plan to increase aid.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Russell Berg, dean of graduate school admissions and financial aid. “It’s not clear that at Harvard the president has access to unrestricted funds that the president can push anywhere.”
Berg said changing financial aid might require fundraising for graduate student aid.
Harvard recently announced that its endowment lost $800 million last year, falling to $18.3 billion.
“From a competitive point of view we would want offers to be equivalent with other offers students receive,” Berg said.
Yale Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said Yale is following similar tactics to remain competitive in the battle to attract graduate students.
“We’re all trying to do that,” Hockfield said. “We’re all saying that. Harvard has been very aggressive over the past five years, but so have Yale, Princeton and Stanford. We’re going to continue to be very aggressive.”
Shaun Rein, president of Harvard’s graduate student council, said graduate students would welcome any aid increase, particularly since housing costs in Cambridge have skyrocketed in recent years.
At Yale, graduate students in doctoral programs receive grants that cover full tuition and offer a stipend of at least $13,700 per year. After two years, students are required to teach courses.