Financial Aid Spending Continues to Grow

Office of Admissions and Financial Aid
Harvard's Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.
Harvard awarded students a total of nearly $414 million in financial aid in fiscal year 2017, a roughly 4 percent increase from the previous year.

According to the University’s annual financial reports, this rise in financial aid spending continues a pattern of sustained growth over the past decade. Since fiscal year 2008, the amount committed to financial aid has increased by over 64 percent.

The University’s reported spending includes financial aid given to students at the College and Harvard's other eleven degree-granting schools. According to Sally C. Donahue, director of financial aid at the College, the College alone also saw an increase in financial aid spending comparable to the University as a whole. Including Pell Grants and federal funding, the College gave students roughly $179 million, marking a 4 percent increase from the previous year.

For the College in particular, Donahue credits the rise in financial aid spending to increasing costs of attendance and more effective outreach to low-income applicants through the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative. Though admission to the College is need-blind, financial aid awards are need-based.

“It takes a long time for change to happen,” Donahue said. “Even though we launched our Harvard Financial Aid Initiative over a decade ago, there are some pockets in the country who are just hearing about it for the first time.”

“I think that’s definitely had an effect on the students who apply to Harvard and ultimately therefore the students who are admitted,” she added.

According to the College financial aid office’s website, over half of undergraduates receive some form of need-based aid from Harvard. In a survey of the Class of 2021, The Crimson reported that roughly 26 percent of the freshman class come from households with an annual income of less than $80,000. The University provides full financial aid to undergraduates from families that make less than $65,000 a year.

In addition, Donahue said she believes University President Drew G. Faust’s commitment to financial aid through the capital campaign is key to expanding funds for financial aid. According to Donahue, the campaign aims to raise $600 million for financial aid at the College before the campaign ends in June 2018. While other buckets in the capital campaign reached their stated goals years ago, financial aid still lags behind.

“We are very hopeful that we’ll make it, and we’re not quite there yet,” Donahue said. “A number of us have been working really hard trying to make sure that happens.”

While undergraduates receive the plurality of Harvard’s financial aid, some of Harvard’s professional schools have also grappled with increasing demand for student financial aid.

Last month, more than 175 Harvard Law School alumni and students wrote an open letter to Law School Dean John F. Manning asking the school to strengthen the Low Income Protection Program, which covers a portion of law school debt for students who pursue careers in public service.

In September, Harvard Business School launched several scholarships for students who had been the first in their families to attend college, following a $12.5 million donation from Jonathan S. Lavine and Jeannie B. Lavine ’88, the largest-ever gift for scholarships at the Business school. The school had previously announced a scholarship program for students from low-income backgrounds in July.

—Staff writer William S. Flanagan can be reached at will.flanagan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @willflan21.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at michael.xie@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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