President Lawrence H. Summers unveiled a $14 million boost to financial aid across the University yesterday, as the centerpiece of an aggressive plan to make graduate education at Harvard more affordable.
Along with a low-interest loan partnership with Citibank, the program is Summers’ long awaited answer to a pledge made in his inaugural address to make it possible for students to attend any of Harvard’s graduate schools regardless of financial need.
But in a press conference yesterday, Summers stressed that the initiatives— which target students interested in a career in public service—are only a first step.
Summers said conversations with students and administrators at Harvard’s various schools alerted him to the fact that Harvard did not do enough to assist students interested in pursuing a career in public service.
“I was very struck by the fact that there was substantially more financial aid available to you if you wanted to come to Harvard to be an investment banker or a lawyer than if you wanted to be a scientist or a teacher,” Summers said.
Starting in September, a new scholarship known as the Presidential Scholars program will dole out $14 million over three years in grants to students considering careers in public service or research.
The funds would go to all of Harvard’s graduate and professional schools except for the Law School and the Business School. Those schools already have generous aid programs, Summers explained, and their graduates typically earn larger salaries and have less trouble repaying student loans.
Graduate students in the natural sciences, who generally receive more federal aid, will also not be elligible for the scholarships.
“There’s a very full package of support that’s already provided to students in the sciences but that’s not available to students in the humanities and social sciences,” Summers said.
Roughly 200 to 300 students are expected to receive the new grants during the program’s first three years.
Each school’s admissions and financial aid office will develop its own system for selecting scholarship recipients, Summers said.
While some will use need as the primary criteria, others will base their decisions on the candidates’ academic merits.
The second part of the plan unveiled yesterday will create a new low-interest loan program.
Graduate students across the University will now be eligible for the Harvard Educational Loan Program (HELP), a partnership with Citibank’s Student Loan Corporation offering student loans at below-market rates of 4 1/8%.
Unlike most other loans, these loans will be available to international students as well as domestic students, a fact that Summers said would particularly benefit the School of Public Health and the Kennedy School, which draw a large number of students from foreign countries.
“With this new loan program, coming to the School of Public Health is for the first time a realistic possibility for large numbers of students from developing countries,” Barry R. Bloom, the dean of the School of Public Health, said in a press release.
The new aid program will be a long-awaited boost to students in the University’s graduate and professional schools, who currently borrow approximately $45 million per year from non-federal sources to help pay for tuition, fees and living expenses.
With the increased aid, students borrowing $40,000 over two years are estimated to save roughly $2500.
Along with the new scholarship and loan programs, Summers promoted yesterday the recently-created University Graduate Student Aid Fund, which was designed to solicit donations for graduate student financial aid.
Raising money for the fund will likely play a role in the next University-wide capital campaign, Summers said. But in the meantime, University officials will use the fund to put more money earmarked for graduate student financial aid in the University’s coffers.
Over the last few months, Harvard’s schools have submitted proposals to the central administration outlining potential use of the funds, though University officials declined to comment on specific allocations yesterday.
Schools will be notified of official award amounts later this week.
Officials and students alike said yesterday that the financial aid initiative’s timing was right.
“The world situation demands the best minds attacking complex issues with expertise and sound judgment , and these programs will help us to attract top talents,” Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye said in a press release.
Graduate Student Council President Rebecca Spencer said she’s happy to hear that fewer students will have heavy loans hanging over their heads.
“I think it’s great. Any extra financial support that graduate students can get is helpful,” she said.
—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.