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Financial aid at Harvard has changed, and after 20 years in Cambridge, Harvard's longest serving Financial Aid Director, James S. Miller, has decided that he needs a change too.
Miller, a 1973 graduate of Brown University, is moving back to his alma mater to work in development. He spent more than two decades in Harvard's admissions and financial aid office and leaves the aid program in its strongest state in the history of the College.
Miller, whose resignation went into effect Sept. 3, saw the aid program through both an unprecedented expansion and changes in structure.
When he came to Harvard in 1978, one year of school cost less than $9,000. As tuition skyrocketed in the 1980s, he became a primary advocate for maintaining Harvard's leadership in financial aid, with efforts in development and government advocacy.
Now, more than $90 million in aid is distributed each year.
"People don't realize how precarious things like the financial aid program are," Miller said. "There were periods when Harvard had to think very hard about whether to maintain its financial aid commitment because it was tough, but it did, and it would again."
Currently, the Financial Aid Office is in the hands of a committee of senior admissions officers led by William R. Fitzsimmons '67, dean of admissions and financial aid. Fitzsimmons said he hopes to find a replacement in the next few months, but the process could take as long as a year.
The search will be difficult, especially since the position of director has changed in recent years. The ideal candidate, like Miller, will have to serve as both an administrator and an advocate.
"There wasn't one part of the job in which he wasn't absolutely superb," Fitzsimmons said. "He has been a giant in the financial aid world."
According to Miller, development is a natural extension of financial aid. He said he hopes his development work at Brown will make the school more accessible.
"[Brown is] a place that educated me on someone else's nickel," Miller said. "I feel a great deal of affection and a lot of loyalty to Brown...it's a great chance to do something new."
And Miller is leaving 20 years later than he originally planned.
He took his first Harvard job as an Admissions and Financial Aid Officer in 1978, intending to stay for only a year. Instead, he rose through the ranks of the office to become Director of Financial Aid in 1983. He was also a first-year proctor between 1979 and 1983.
"The contact with the students--it was the part of the Harvard job that I liked the most," Miller said. "Harvard gives people a sense of what's possible in their lives more than most places I've ever seen. When you see what happens to people over a long period of time, it's very gratifying."
Miller's colleagues said that as a senior financial administrator, he never forgot the human side of his position.
"Students just love Jim, and many adopt him as their guardian angel in the office," said Matthew J. DeGreeff '89, a senior admissions and financial aid officer. Both students and parents "connect with him because of his humor and openness and intelligence."
Still, Miller said that when James J. Husson, Brown executive director of development and a former Harvard administrator, contacted him mid-summer, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
But Harvard hopes that Miller may one day consider a return despite his loyalty to his alma mater.
"It doesn't mean that we don't have in mind that we'd love to steal him back after a few years," Fitzsimmons said.
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