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
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.