The Fine Art of Grantsmanship

Federal and University officials alike consider the federal work-study program, which provides a subsidy of 80 percent of students' salaries for jobs with non-profit organizations, to be one of the most effective financial aid programs. But the Harvard administrators who are responsible for dealing with the U.S. Office of Education also know that the program is not always the most equitable way for the federal government to give jobs to the neediest students. The process through which schools apply for federal funds encourages "grantsmanship," says R. Jerrold Gibson '51, director of the University's office of fiscal services. Clever administrators can manipulate their applications to obtain large increases in their schools' grants--increases not always justified by the financial need of the students, Gibson says.

Until this year, Harvard was not taking full advantage of the program. "We were playing it straight. The other schools weren't, and before 1975 we came out short," Gibson says. In applying for a grant for the 1977-'78 school year, however, Harvard set out to prove it was not receiving its due. Gibson relates, "I drew graphs. I made tables. I told them we were very similar to other institutions in Massachusetts who were getting much more money than we were."

As a result of this effort, the Office of Education granted Harvard over $1 million for 1977-'78--almost double the previous year's allotment.

The increase enabled Harvard to fund the first sizeable work-study program in the graduate schools this year, but the graduate schools were not ready for such generosity. The total graduate school work-study budget was about $500,000, but the schools used only half of it. "The need just wasn't there," Lawrence E. Maguire, director of student employment, says, explaining that graduate students often find good jobs that pay more than work-study jobs, and their academic commitments do not always leave them time to work, anyway. Gibson adds that students in some schools have more need for work-study jobs than others. The Business, Medical and Dental Schools use the least work-study money--partly because their students have high expected incomes and can obtain loans more easily than students in other graduate schools.

Maguire and Gibson say they expect graduate schools to use more money next year as they become familiar with the work-study program and make it a major part of their financial programs. But this year, faced with unused graduate school work-study money in January, administrators decided to reallocate about $250,000 to Harvard undergraduate men.


Radcliffe undergraduates, however, could not share in the new funds because Radcliffe is legally a separate institution and applies for work-study grants separately from Harvard. And women had already been hurt financially once this year by Radcliffe's overspending of work-study funds last summer. Radcliffe used more than half its grant for the year on summer jobs, and could only fund about 80 term-time jobs in September. Only those women whose parents contributed nothing to their college expenses were eligible for work-study jobs, while men with a parental contribution (P.C.) level of up to $750 were eligible. The reallocation of funds from the graduate schools enabled Harvard to raise the work-study eligibility even higher, to a P.C. level of $2000, while Radcliffe's remained at rock-bottom level.

The disparity in eligibility levels and the much lower percentage of woman than men receiving work-study money aroused the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS). RUS officers protested to administrators, and this spring published a hand-out for undergraduates detailing the discriminatory system. But it seemed too late to do anything. Radcliffe received a small supplementary grant in the spring that funded about 25 more jobs, while Harvard received a supplementary grant large enough to fund 125. Burton I. Wolfman, administrative dean of Radcliffe, made it clear he had no intention of applying for work-study money with Harvard in the future, even though a joint application would make women eligible to gain from future reallocations from graduate schools. Applying together, Wolfman said, would jeopardize Radcliffe's independent status and could result in a loss to Radcliffe of more than $1 million in other funds Radcliffe gains because of its autonomy.

But a plan was in the works--through careful negotiations, Harvard and Radcliffe administrators persuaded the Office of Education to permit a transfer of $20,000 from Harvard's supplementary grant to Radcliffe's program, while Radcliffe still retained its separate status. The transfer was unprecedented and involved some maneuvering that administrators are hesitant to talk about openly. Harvard and Radcliffe officials had to admit to what one administrator describes as "abysmal mismanagement" in past years, of both applications for work-study grants and allocation of funds. Radcliffe had the support of Wellesley and Mt. Holyoke Colleges, which shared their records with Radcliffe and showed the federal allocation process had hurt Radcliffe unfairly.

Radcliffe also had to show "without embarassing Harvard" that its students were unfairly disadvantaged in the work-study program because of the legal technicalities of the "non-merger merger" between Harvard and Radcliffe. Finally, administrators mentioned to federal officials that Radcliffe students, in light of all the circumstances surrounding the work-study program, might have grounds for a class-action suit charging unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex--a suit that would embarass Harvard, Radcliffe, and the government. These arguments were enough for the Office of Education to dredge up an old regulation they decided applied to Harvard and Radcliffe, permitting the transfer of funds between institutions in a "consortia relationship."

The transfer came too late to equalize significantly the Harvard and Radcliffe programs this year. Women were not eager to take jobs as reading period neared, so half the $20,000 will be shifted to other financial aid programs. Wolfman says he is sorry the money arrived too late to be fully utilized, but the important precedent for the transfer has been set. "We'll get the full impact of the transfer next year when we make the same request, only earlier," Wolfman says.

Administrators have established a policy of prohibiting Harvard and Radcliffe from spending more than one-third of their total work-study grants in the summer. The new policy has meant that fewer students than last year could get work-study funds this summer, but the number of students who would have to be denied funds was not as great as had been expected. Martha C. Lyman, acting director of financial aid, says only a few men and women were turned down for summer funding; 160 men and 60 women will take work-study jobs.

Lyman's office has more of a role in the work-study program now because administrators have changed the criteria for determining eligibility for work-study. Instead of considering only the P.C. level, the aid office will examine a student's complete financial aid application. The new system, while hitting "90 per cent of the same people," should provide a more accurate assessment of which students most need work-study jobs, Maguire says.

Attacking the larger problem of arbitrariness in the federal allocation process, Gibson served this year on a nine-member federal committee charged with revamping the system. The group's recommendations, completed in April, call in part for a "more standardized formula approach" to the problem of dividing funds between schools. Schools' applications will be based only on work-study figures for the year just completed, not on projections of need, which tend to be exaggerated. Gibson says the committee's recommendations will cut down on the grantsmanship involved in applying for work-study funds, and ensure a more equitable distribution of funds among schools.

Frowning slightly and choosing his words carefully, Maguire says, "It was a frustrating year for everybody, but it was a necessary year." Stressing the difficulty of finding students to use funds received in he middle of the school year, Maguire says he expects next year to have most of the budget available in September and fewer windfalls of new funds later in the year. He says, "This allows us to start with a healthy program in the fall, instead of a sick one which we have to try to make healthy."