MIT To Match Pell Grants

Unprecedented program will match $1.5 million of federal student aid

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will now match every dollar of financial aid given to students through need-based federal Pell Grants, MIT President Susan Hockfield announced on Tuesday.

The first-of-its-kind initiative, dubbed the Pell Matching Grants Program and effective in the fall for all four classes, will distribute an additional $1.5 million in aid to the 550 students who receive the grants, according to MIT’s executive director of student financial services, Betsy M. Hicks.

“We are trying to find new ways to give low-income and first-generation students a further break,” Hicks said. “It’s extremely important that students from all income brackets realize that it’s possible to come to a place like MIT.”

MIT hopes that its direct association with the recognizable Pell program will effectively expand its applicant pool, Hicks said.

“We’re trying to build from the knowledge that students and guidance counselors already have, and convince them that a Pell Grant is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Critics have called on Congress to raise the maximum value of Pell Grants, which has been frozen at $4,050 since 2003.

While MIT’s dean of undergraduate education, Daniel E. Hastings, said the initiative was unrelated to the federal freeze, Hicks expressed concern over the “grant/loan imbalance” facing students today.

Hockfield addressed the same problem in the press release that announced the new initiative.

“Adequate need-based student aid, especially in the form of scholarships, is essential if this country is to develop the talents of our young people to the fullest,” she wrote.

A NATIONAL REFORM

The announcement comes two years after Harvard introduced changes to its own financial aid program, eliminating the expected contribution for families earning less than $40,000 a year. Yale followed suit in March 2005, setting the threshold at $45,000.

With the Pell plan, MIT opted not to set an annual income level beneath which the school waives a family’s contribution.

“The problem with a blanket statement is that it is not nuanced enough,” Hastings said. “There is a difference between families that earn $29,000 and $39,000 annually.”

While Hicks said MIT’s Financial Aid Office re-evaluates its decisions each year, she added that the school has no foreseeable intention to make more sweeping changes to its program.

“Every institution has its own policies that fit their circumstances, but they are all different strategies with the same goal,” she said.

Harvard’s director of financial aid, Sally C. Donahue, wrote in an e-mail that the College is currently evaluating MIT’s new plan.

“We are in the midst of reviewing a number of changes recently announced in financial aid, both at MIT and with respect to the federal financial aid landscape,” Donahue wrote.

A spokeswoman said Hockfield was unavailable for comment yesterday.