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Complex Link Between Federal Dollars and Aid

Letters

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

To the editors:

Your recent editorial, "Give Us Our Money" (Editorial, May 14), seriously misrepresents Harvard's financial aid policies and practices, as well the relationship between Harvard's aid programs and those offered by the federal government.

Twenty years ago federal scholarship aid, including Pell grants, represented nearly twenty percent of the College's scholarship budget. Today federal scholarship aid accounts for less than six percent of the College's scholarship program. In other words, as the needs of Harvard's scholarship students have risen, the College, not the federal government, has borne the full cost of meeting those increased needs.

During most of this decade the federal government faced substantial cost and budget constraints and Pell grant maximums actually decreased in real dollars, while decreasing even more when measured in constant dollars. From 1990 through 1995, for example, individual students received less Pell Grant assistance each year than they did the previous year--and the College bridged the gap using its own resources. I might gently remind the editors that during this extended period of Pell decreases there were no campus editorials calling for students to receive less scholarship money because of reduced Pell authorizations.

It is worth noting as well, and as your initial article on Pell funding correctly reported, there are complex, extensive and occasionally arcane federal regulations governing precisely how much financial aid individual students can receive. In most instances we are required to reduce institutional financial aid as students receive additional federal funds. The College could allow students next year to "benefit from the Pell grant increase," but it would be illegal in many cases.

This year's changes to the College's aid programs are unprecedented. The scholarship budget has been increased by more than twenty percent to $53 million annually, the entire increase funded by Harvard's resources. The initiatives announced by Dean Knowles in September accomplish precisely what your editorial calls for; substantially lower debt burdens, freedom and flexibility for students to pursue unpaid internships and time-consuming extracurriculars and opportunities for students to focus more on educational experiences and less on finances. If we had relied solely on increases in federal scholarship aid to fund the initiatives they simply would not exist.

Harvard continues to meet full need for all aided students--those receiving Pell grants and those who do not--in a world where few institutions are able to sustain the principle. And Harvard does so in spite of the uncertainties of federal appropriations for grant funding. The College's commitment to meeting full need will not waiver, and students and families have every right to expect constancy and predictability in that commitment. In return, it seems fair to assume that no single category of scholarship aid, i.e. Pell grants, be considered an "exempt" resource in a student's aid package, particularly if the College is asked, as it has been in the past (and may be in the future) to replace federal resources that may be reduced or eliminated by the vagaries of federal budgets and national politics. JAMES S. MILLER   May 14, 1999 The writer is Director of Financial Aid for Harvard-Radcliffe.

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