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Harvard Expands Its College Aid

Harvard University is retooling its financial aid system to save middle and upper income students thousands of dollars a year. Other local colleges are expected to follow suit, if they can afford to.

WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports on Harvard's move and its significance in higher education.

CURT NICKISCH: It's college application season, and Harvard's admissions office has been noticing a disturbing trend. Dean Bill Fitzsimmons says he was getting plenty of applications from families making less than sixty grand a year. Harvard completely covers their tuition.

BILL FITZSIMMONS: But what we were finding was that some of these families from sixty thousand on up were not even applying to Harvard.

CURT NICKISCH: Because the slow economy, he says, makes it hard for them to keep up with the rising cost of a Harvard education — at more than forty-five thousand dollars a year.

Now under Harvard's new system, students from families earning as much as one hundred eighty thousand will pay no more than a tenth of their income to go to the college. Harvard will also stop factoring homeownership into financial aid.

The move is expected to pressure other colleges to do the same. Though many admit they've been worried about this middle class squeeze already. At Tufts University, Admissions Dean Lee Coffin says the bill there is closing in on fifty grand a year.

LEE COFFIN: That cost is finally to the point where families remember buying a home and it cost less than that.

CURT NICKISCH: The problem is, not every college has the financial muscle to give the middle class a big lift. Harvard is paying for its financial aid boost from a thirty-five billion dollar endowment.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on December 11, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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