Study Says Richer Universities Receive More Federal Aid

Richer universities often receive greater federal aid than poorer ones, a New York Times study has found.

The institutions receiving the most aid typically house considerably fewer lower-income students than their public, poorer counterparts, according to the study.

For every student applying for financial aid, the federal government awarded funds in the 2000-01 academic year for the low-interest Perkins loan program in the amount of $169.23 for Brown, $174.88 for Dartmouth and $211.80 for Stanford, according to the study.

For the rest, the government allotted a median of $14.38 per student.

For work study programs, the federal government gives Ivy League universities from five to eight times the median amount.

With respect to grant money used to meet the on-campus needs of poor students, Harvard and others like it are receiving anywhere from five to 20 times the median amount, according to The Times.

Harvard Financial Aid director Sally C. Donahue said the study was misleading since most federal aid money is given in the form of Pell Grants, which are comparatively rare at Harvard.

About 600 students at Harvard—or 9 percent of the student population—receive Pell Grants.

“The federal financial aid program is complicated. While the numbers only take into account campus-based aid allocation, there are a wholly separate set of funds such as Pell Grants, that are transportable and awarded to the students—not the University,” said Donahue.

Moreover, there is a great deal more money in programs such as Pell Grants than in campus-based aid, which is only a minor share of the total federal aid given, according to Donahue.

Donahue said the majority of Harvard’s financial aid—about 75 percent—comes from the endowment, not the federal government.

According to the financial aid office website, close to 40 percent of Harvard scholarship students come from families with incomes below $60,000 but the plurality of these families make between $40,000 and $60,000, while a minority make $20,000 or less.

“Because we have a need-blind admission policy, whether a student comes from a higher or lower income family does not matter,” Donahue said. “Students coming from low-income backgrounds often don’t apply to schools like Harvard. It’s a complicated social phenomenon. We would love to have more students from low-income families; there are only so many spots.”

The polarity in campus-based aid can be traced to when aid was determined through a negotiable process, by which those institutions with better reputations and greater persuasion skills amassed most of the federal money.

The dichotomy continued because institutions could not receive less money than they had been awarded in past years.

Reform of this fiscal political question is currently being taken up by the Congress, in the process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The legislation that comes up for review every so often, according to Washington lobbyist Kevin Casey.

“There are clearly going to be changes. The system works well now but I would like to see a rise in the federal aid given to institutions overall,” Casey said.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56, D-Mass., last week introduced a $15 billion bill to provide more federal support with no provision as to the distribution in campus-based financial aid.

A Kennedy aide would not comment on the Senator’s view on the distribution of federal money.