Summers Unveils Financial Aid Initiative

Parents who earn less than $40,000 a year will no longer be asked to contribute to the cost of their children’s Harvard education starting September, University President Lawrence H. Summers announced today.

The financial aid plan will also cut costs for families who earn between $40,000 and $60,000 annually. Parents in that income bracket will, on average, receive a $1,250 reduction in the amount of the annual tuition bill they are asked to contribute.

Parents earning less than $40,000 currently pay an average of $2,300 a year toward their children’s tuition, according to University figures.

“We want to send the strongest possible message that Harvard is open to talented students from all economic backgrounds,” Summers, who is expected to speak about the initiative at the American Council of Education’s annual meeting in Miami tomorrow, said in a press release.

The new aid initiative, which is expected to add a $2 million cost to the College’s $80 million annual scholarship budget, will affect both entering and returning students starting in the 2004-2005 academic year. The changes will benefit about 1,000 families of undergraduates, according to University estimates.

The plan announced Saturday is the latest step in the University’s efforts to help students from low-income families afford Harvard’s tuition. The College reported that it has increased its scholarship budget by 49 percent in the last six years.

On average, members of the College’s Class of 2003 graduated with a student loan debt of $8,800, compared to a national average of nearly $20,000 in debt per graduating student, according to the University.

But in terms of cutting low-income students’ tuition burden, Harvard still lags behind rival Princeton, which has not required undergraduates to take out student loans since 2001.

According to statistics from Harvard’s Financial Aid Office, 35 percent of undergraduates take out student loans and the College provides scholarship aid to 48 percent of undergraduates.

Tuition for the 2003-2004 academic year at Harvard is $26,066. Including room, board and other fees, that figure rises to $37,928.

The University announced changes to its scholarship formula just two days before the March 1 deadline for prospective members of the Class of 2008 to file aid applications. For returning students, the deadline to apply for aid for the coming academic year is Sept. 1.

The initiative follows a December University announcement about the Crimson Summer Academy, set to begin this July, which will bring 30 high-achieving students from local public and parochial schools and low-income backgrounds to Harvard for classes and college advising.

Each student will receive a $3,000 college scholarship upon completion of the three-summer-long program, in addition to a $200 weekly stipend during the program to replace summer job earnings.

University officials, including Summers, were unavailable for comment tonight.

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at hemel@fas.harvard.edu.