On Monday, Harvard once again established itself as the leader in the movement to make higher education more accessible.
With one late afternoon press call, our northern neighbor redefined financial aid, extending it with a clever clarity to middle- and upper-class families.
If a family makes $180,000 or less, it is responsible for paying a maximum of 10 percent of its income. And forget student loans that follow you past graduation. For a student from a $150,000-income family, Harvard will now cost only $15,000 per year. It’s brilliant, really.
Yale, meanwhile, came away squarely in third place — behind Princeton, too. University officials may have been planning for a “major” January announcement, but their thunder now seems stolen. Harvard beat us — yet again.
But Yale, still, can come out on top.
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said it all in an interview with the News Tuesday: “Yale is one of those rare institutions that could do something similar to or maybe even more aggressive than Harvard,” he explained. “The real commitment would be to go beyond just financial aid to seek to diversify the undergraduate class by income.”
We pressed Yale President Richard Levin to see whether he shared our — and Kahlenberg’s — belief. He did.
Calling Harvard’s initiative “very impressive,” he seemed moved — enough, perhaps, to move his own policy — by Harvard’s initiative: “We designed a very generous financial aid initiative,” he said of the plan discussed at the Yale Corporation meeting this past weekend. “Of course,” he added, “we will now take what Harvard has done into account” before announcing the final plans.
Although Yale lost the competitive advantage, we applaud President Levin for staying above Harvard’s sneaky, albeit strategically sound, gamesmanship. The real question, though, is to what extent he will modify Yale’s plans in response. And more importantly, are President Levin and his deputies willing to seriously consider potentially novel routes to better aid that would leave even Harvard in the dust?
In revising its plan, Yale should first consider what Harvard did right. Matt Reed, a policy analyst at the Institute for College Access & Success, praised the “clarity” of the program in an interview. Its also redefines the aid game as one that should also benefit the middle class.
However, Harvard’s plan is not without flaws. A fundamental unfairness remains: Why should a student of a $200,000-income family pay full tuition while a student from a family earning $150,000 pay about $20,000 less?
Yale could adopt one of two programs. 1) Harvard’s, but not stopping at $180,000 households; After $200,000, 15 percent of one’s family income can be charged, and the graduated scale can continue until the price matches the maximum tuition, or 2) Yale could adopt an expanded Yale Law School model where students are able to defer cost to later in life, and then pay based on their salary. This plan properly places the burden on the student, not the student’s background, in determining which university to attend.
And whatever it does, Yale must increase its $62 million aid budget to Harvard’s $98 million, soon to be $120 million.
President Levin asked us to consider one argument lost in recent coverage: his concern “that only a handful of other schools are capable of offering similarly generous packages” and that Harvard’s lead may not result in “the best outcome for the whole system of higher education.”
His argument makes sense; there are fewer than two dozen universities out of thousands that are capable of implementing a plan even remotely akin to Harvard’s.
Then again, that same attitude may be why The New York Times’ most-e-mailed story Tuesday was about Harvard opening its doors wider — and not Yale.