Aid May Sway Harvard Hopefuls

In the last month, Princeton, Stanford and Yale Universities have announced huge increases in financial aid, making a pitch for the pocket-books of America's top high school students.

But who's buying?

If the middle-class students these schools are trying to attract take the bait, the results might be visible on Harvard Yard--in a shrinking middle-class presence among Harvard's student body in the years to come.

Linda J. Sax of the Higher Education Institute predicts that "all things held equal, a middle income student [will] in all likelihood be drawn away" from Harvard in the face of competitive offers from other schools.

In a survey of guidance counselors around the country, many agreed with Sax, saying Harvard could lose middle-class students to schools offering more aid.


A substantial number, however, said Harvard is insulated by its name value and a tradition of generosity and has no reason to worry about losing students in the near future.

"Left in the Dust"

Ann M. Sandoval, a college counselor at Detroit Country Day School, says many middle-class students fall into a "gray area" in traditional systems of calculating aid.

"Those students who have very high need are usually accommodated by traditional aid programs, but most of the time it's the middle-income students who have the most problems," Sandoval said.

Sandoval says many of these families have two incomes but multiple children near college age, meaning that aid systems like Harvard's, looking primarily at income and assets, exaggerate their ability to pay.

"The federal government says they have the money to pay, but it's difficult for families to take that kind of charge without a big impact on their daily lives," she adds. "And I'm not talking about selling the yacht, but really big sacrifices."

She says that last school year one student accepted to Harvard's class of 2001 instead took a full scholarship to attend the University of Michigan, opting notto endanger her siblings' chances of paying forcollege.

"She said `I know that if I want [to go toHarvard] bad enough, my family can figure out someway to do it, but what would my little brotherhave to sacrifice?'" Sandoval said.

Counselors from Tennessee to Texas to New YorkCity suburbs agreed, saying that the middle classoften loses out in traditional aid systems-- "leftin the dust" in one counselor's words.

Stanford, Yale and Princeton have followedthese traditional policies to a decrease in middleclass enrollment in recent years--a slippage whichall three say caused their changes in aid policy.

Their new plans attempt to tackle the problemby adjusting the amount of family assets used incalculating the family's ability to pay,decreasing expected family contribution for manyfamilies in middle income brackets.

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