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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Quiet Financial Aid Battle an Experiment Before Fall Policy Change

By Joshua L. Kwan, Crimson Staff Writers

Leslie A. Munoz '02 was hooked on Harvard. But Byerly Hall needed an extra $2,000 to reel her in. A middle-income public school student from Pueblo, Colo., Munoz was admitted to Harvard, Stanford and several state schools in her home state earlier this year.

In years past, her decision might have been a walk for the world's most prestigious University. But Harvard's original offer was low, and it took a last-minute gift to win her away from a free ride elsewhere.

Like first-years for decades, Munoz is now looking forward to Yard life, but the effort it took to attract her this year signals a change in the way both Harvard and the rest of higher education deal with financial aid.

Five of the nation's top universities announced increased aid this spring, aiming to increase middle-class enrollment.

At first, Harvard did nothing, with University officials saying low middle-class yield was a problem they weren't facing.

But within two weeks, the University quietly began a million-dollar financial counterattack--upping its offers on an individual basis and giving the class of 2002 just enough to win them away from competitors.

And at the end of this semester, President Neil L. Rudenstine and Byerly Hall promised to replace this skirmishing with a more formal program this fall--reforms which likely would reduce self-help requirements for many students.

But then financial aid officials and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles reneged on this promise, committing themselves only to a summer-long review of aid policy.

Still, before the reversal Harvard officials admitted that prestige can only go so far and that other schools' money is a factor to be reckoned with.

In quietly making bids for individual students like Munoz large enough to win them over, Harvard faced the reality of financial aid's importance without rashly and publicly following its rivals.

And similarly, while University officials still say aid must change next fall, over-the-top generosity will probably also not mark formal aid changes, whatever form they may take.

Harvard seems to know that its prestige is a powerful voice in college decisions. This spring at least, it seems to have assigned financial aid the role of bringing Harvard just close enough that prestige can do the rest.

The Pressure Builds

At the end of January, Princeton started a war.

The university, which in recent years had seenits admissions yield drop in middle- andlower-income brackets, announced a bold break fromdecades of cooperation between Ivy financial aiddepartments.

It allocated an additional $6 million tounilaterally cut student self-help and expectedparental contributions for the class of 2002,replacing these with outright grants.

Harvard didn't flinch.

Officials pointed to a steady yield inlower-income brackets where its Ivy peers hadfaltered but Harvard had always done well.

Rudenstine lauded the benefits of "investing inone's own education" through loans and work-studyrequirements, self-help that was reduced inPrinceton's proposal.

Then Yale and Stanford Universities, which havetraditionally battled with Princeton over a commonpool of applicants, stirred, reducing familycontributions and self-help.

Their increases cost $3.5 million and $3.8million, respectively.

After Yale changed its policies, Harvard wasfinally moved, replacing its refusal to changewith a pledge to make its offers competitive on acase-by-case basis. This pledge--to keep packageswithin "shouting distance" of the competition--wasa vague label for what would become a silent,case-by-case bidding war with its rivals.

At other schools the aid revolution continued.MIT dropped $1,000 from student self-helprequirements, and the University of Pennsylvaniastrengthened a system of merit-based "preferentialpackages" by eliminating loans for 100 outstandingstudents.

In Byerly Hall, officials quickly learned thatHarvard's name was being pitted against otherschools' increased generosity.

In the estimation of Director of Financial AidJames S. Miller, 70 percent of those offered aidcalled in with a question or request for anadjustment. In previous years, only about 30percent of students called Byerly Hall.

According to Miller, this record number ofrequests was met with between $750,000 and $1.5million in extra spending on financialaid--bidding money that no one could find in theFAS budget at the beginning of February.

The effects of this low-profile outlay wereobvious when admissions yield figures wereannounced late last month.

Harvard's yield rose 4 points to a schoolrecord of 80 percent while other schools hoverednear their recent averages. Without even formallyjoining the fray, Harvard seems to have won thisspring's bidding war for high school students.

All Aid is Local

A senior this year at Central High School inPueblo, Munoz is a perfect example of a "shoutingdistance" success story.

Three years ago, Munoz's father was laid offand then worked various temporary jobs. Withoutsignificant financial assistance, the Munoz familywould not be able to pay the sky-high costsrequired even after financial aid at some schools.

Colorado's Boettcher Scholarship was endowedfor students like Leslie, and it is this kind ofoutlay that Harvard found in the hands of many ofits admitted students this spring. Each year, 40Colorado residents are awarded full tuition, roomand board for four years as long as they remainin-state.

Munoz says Stanford was originally herpreferred pick, but it refused to budge on itsnot-generous-enough offer. When Munoz visitedHarvard Yard over Easter break, she fell in love.Her family sat down with financial aid officerSally E. Champagne in Byerly Hall to see if heraid offer could be raised.

In the end, when push came to shove, Harvardforked over the $2,000 in direct grant aid. TheMunoz family, with a sister about to get married,faced an unexpected burden, Harvard ruled.

Leslie also happened to be seriouslyconsidering Yale and the Boettcher Scholarshipwith Denver University.

Munoz was not alone in needing more thanprestige to accept Harvard's offer. High schoolcounselors surveyed earlier this spring agreedthat though name value is a big factor in collegechoice, it is not the only factor.

"Let's be honest: Finances enter into theequation," says Ann M. Murchison, a counselor atFort Worth Country Day School in Texas. "If youcan get an equal or similar education at anotherhigh-level school and perhaps get a betterfinancial aid package, the other school may bemore tempting."

The trick to beating this kind of scholarship,as Harvard officials discovered in Munoz's case,seems to be providing enough aid to bring Harvardwithin "shouting distance" of the competing offerand then let prestige do the rest. But prestige byitself just can't compete.

"People will walk away from this place," Millersays. "If we had done nothing [about increases inaid at other schools] this spring, I don't knowwhat would have happened."

Change in the Air

Byerly Hall worked overtime to handle "shoutingdistance" claims from people like Munoz--six-dayweeks and 12-hour days for the entire month ofApril.

Miller originally said that over the course ofthis trying month, his office realized "shoutingdistance" could not work in the long term.

"Down the road," Miller said, it is importantfor Harvard to commit itself to an official policychange, to eliminate headaches for parents and aidofficers alike.

All semester, everyone involved with financialaid changes has stressed that Harvard was beingcircumspect instead of stubborn--scared that aknee-jerk policy change would be impractical ortoo expensive for the long term.

And this semester may have also been animportant experiment to determine the shape of thenew policy, generating a model for how closeHarvard's financial aid must be to its competitorsbefore name value does the rest.

Neither Rudenstine nor Miller would speculatein detail on next fall's changes, other than tosay the need-blind admissions, need-based aid andsome element of self-help would be preserved.

And, though a charge led by budget-consciousKnowles led Miller and others to retract theirpledges for formal aid changes, sources acrosscampus including Rudenstine himself point to aneed for formal change in the fall to fight anincreasingly powerful pull of aid offers at otherschools

Change seems likely in the mix of self-help andgrants given to students. Miller said the aidreview committee would likely take a "hard look"at Stanford's program of using outsidescholarships to reduce self-help requirements,instead of partially applying them against directgrants.

In addition, it also seems likely thatself-help will be reduced in general, followingRudenstine's earlier statement that "some peoplethink our students work too hard."

It is not certain whether current students orjust entering first-years students will benefitfrom any formal increase.

Judging by the jump in aid expenses from thisyear's informal competitiveness, a formal increasecould have a price tag around $2 million per class.

But it is not likely to be far larger:"shouting distance" was nothing if not anestimation of the value added by Harvard's name.

And if pairing prestige with pocketbook costHarvard at most only $1.5 million this year, itseems there will be little incentive for Harvardto up the ante for the class of 2003.CrimsonJason Y. Cho

The Pressure Builds

At the end of January, Princeton started a war.

The university, which in recent years had seenits admissions yield drop in middle- andlower-income brackets, announced a bold break fromdecades of cooperation between Ivy financial aiddepartments.

It allocated an additional $6 million tounilaterally cut student self-help and expectedparental contributions for the class of 2002,replacing these with outright grants.

Harvard didn't flinch.

Officials pointed to a steady yield inlower-income brackets where its Ivy peers hadfaltered but Harvard had always done well.

Rudenstine lauded the benefits of "investing inone's own education" through loans and work-studyrequirements, self-help that was reduced inPrinceton's proposal.

Then Yale and Stanford Universities, which havetraditionally battled with Princeton over a commonpool of applicants, stirred, reducing familycontributions and self-help.

Their increases cost $3.5 million and $3.8million, respectively.

After Yale changed its policies, Harvard wasfinally moved, replacing its refusal to changewith a pledge to make its offers competitive on acase-by-case basis. This pledge--to keep packageswithin "shouting distance" of the competition--wasa vague label for what would become a silent,case-by-case bidding war with its rivals.

At other schools the aid revolution continued.MIT dropped $1,000 from student self-helprequirements, and the University of Pennsylvaniastrengthened a system of merit-based "preferentialpackages" by eliminating loans for 100 outstandingstudents.

In Byerly Hall, officials quickly learned thatHarvard's name was being pitted against otherschools' increased generosity.

In the estimation of Director of Financial AidJames S. Miller, 70 percent of those offered aidcalled in with a question or request for anadjustment. In previous years, only about 30percent of students called Byerly Hall.

According to Miller, this record number ofrequests was met with between $750,000 and $1.5million in extra spending on financialaid--bidding money that no one could find in theFAS budget at the beginning of February.

The effects of this low-profile outlay wereobvious when admissions yield figures wereannounced late last month.

Harvard's yield rose 4 points to a schoolrecord of 80 percent while other schools hoverednear their recent averages. Without even formallyjoining the fray, Harvard seems to have won thisspring's bidding war for high school students.

All Aid is Local

A senior this year at Central High School inPueblo, Munoz is a perfect example of a "shoutingdistance" success story.

Three years ago, Munoz's father was laid offand then worked various temporary jobs. Withoutsignificant financial assistance, the Munoz familywould not be able to pay the sky-high costsrequired even after financial aid at some schools.

Colorado's Boettcher Scholarship was endowedfor students like Leslie, and it is this kind ofoutlay that Harvard found in the hands of many ofits admitted students this spring. Each year, 40Colorado residents are awarded full tuition, roomand board for four years as long as they remainin-state.

Munoz says Stanford was originally herpreferred pick, but it refused to budge on itsnot-generous-enough offer. When Munoz visitedHarvard Yard over Easter break, she fell in love.Her family sat down with financial aid officerSally E. Champagne in Byerly Hall to see if heraid offer could be raised.

In the end, when push came to shove, Harvardforked over the $2,000 in direct grant aid. TheMunoz family, with a sister about to get married,faced an unexpected burden, Harvard ruled.

Leslie also happened to be seriouslyconsidering Yale and the Boettcher Scholarshipwith Denver University.

Munoz was not alone in needing more thanprestige to accept Harvard's offer. High schoolcounselors surveyed earlier this spring agreedthat though name value is a big factor in collegechoice, it is not the only factor.

"Let's be honest: Finances enter into theequation," says Ann M. Murchison, a counselor atFort Worth Country Day School in Texas. "If youcan get an equal or similar education at anotherhigh-level school and perhaps get a betterfinancial aid package, the other school may bemore tempting."

The trick to beating this kind of scholarship,as Harvard officials discovered in Munoz's case,seems to be providing enough aid to bring Harvardwithin "shouting distance" of the competing offerand then let prestige do the rest. But prestige byitself just can't compete.

"People will walk away from this place," Millersays. "If we had done nothing [about increases inaid at other schools] this spring, I don't knowwhat would have happened."

Change in the Air

Byerly Hall worked overtime to handle "shoutingdistance" claims from people like Munoz--six-dayweeks and 12-hour days for the entire month ofApril.

Miller originally said that over the course ofthis trying month, his office realized "shoutingdistance" could not work in the long term.

"Down the road," Miller said, it is importantfor Harvard to commit itself to an official policychange, to eliminate headaches for parents and aidofficers alike.

All semester, everyone involved with financialaid changes has stressed that Harvard was beingcircumspect instead of stubborn--scared that aknee-jerk policy change would be impractical ortoo expensive for the long term.

And this semester may have also been animportant experiment to determine the shape of thenew policy, generating a model for how closeHarvard's financial aid must be to its competitorsbefore name value does the rest.

Neither Rudenstine nor Miller would speculatein detail on next fall's changes, other than tosay the need-blind admissions, need-based aid andsome element of self-help would be preserved.

And, though a charge led by budget-consciousKnowles led Miller and others to retract theirpledges for formal aid changes, sources acrosscampus including Rudenstine himself point to aneed for formal change in the fall to fight anincreasingly powerful pull of aid offers at otherschools

Change seems likely in the mix of self-help andgrants given to students. Miller said the aidreview committee would likely take a "hard look"at Stanford's program of using outsidescholarships to reduce self-help requirements,instead of partially applying them against directgrants.

In addition, it also seems likely thatself-help will be reduced in general, followingRudenstine's earlier statement that "some peoplethink our students work too hard."

It is not certain whether current students orjust entering first-years students will benefitfrom any formal increase.

Judging by the jump in aid expenses from thisyear's informal competitiveness, a formal increasecould have a price tag around $2 million per class.

But it is not likely to be far larger:"shouting distance" was nothing if not anestimation of the value added by Harvard's name.

And if pairing prestige with pocketbook costHarvard at most only $1.5 million this year, itseems there will be little incentive for Harvardto up the ante for the class of 2003.CrimsonJason Y. Cho

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