Along with a low-interest loan partnership with Citibank, the program is Summers’ long-awaited answer to a pledge in his October 2001 inaugural address to make Harvard’s graduate schools accessible regardless of financial need.
But in a press conference Wednesday, Summers stressed that the initiatives— which target students interested in careers in public service—are only a first step.
Summers said conversations with students and administrators alerted him to Harvard’s insufficient efforts to assist students interested in pursuing public service careers.
“I was very struck by the fact that there was substantially more and easier financial aid available to you if you wanted to come to Harvard to be an investment banker or a lawyer than if you wanted to be a scientist or a teacher,” Summers said.
Starting in September, the new scholarship, known as the Presidential Scholars program, will dole out $14 million over three years in grants.
The funds will go to all of Harvard’s graduate and professional schools except for the Law School and the Business School. Those schools already have generous aid programs, Summers explained, and their graduates typically earn larger salaries and have less trouble repaying student loans.
Graduate students in the natural sciences, who generally receive more federal aid, will also not be eligible for the scholarships.
“There’s a very full package of support that’s already provided to students in the sciences, but that’s not available to students in the humanities and social sciences,” Summers said.
Roughly 200 to 300 students are expected to receive the new grants during the program’s first three years.
Each school’s admissions and financial aid office will develop its own system for selecting scholarship recipients, Summers said.
While some will use need as the primary criteria, others will base their decisions on the candidates’ academic merits.
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Peter T. Ellison said the money the school would receive—just under $2.5 million—will make Harvard even more attractive to top candidates.
“Other institutions have had premier fellowships of this nature to attract people for some time,” he said. “Now we will be able to level the playing field.”
Though research in the humanities and social sciences is not traditionally defined as public service, Ellison said academics often work at a “significant monetary sacrifice” for the benefit of the public.
The second part of the plan unveiled Wednesday will create a new low-interest loan program.