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In a promising sign for Harvard’s efforts to attract more low-income students, the fraction of this year’s early applicants requesting fee waivers jumped nearly 50 percent from the previous year’s pool.
Byerly Hall received 215 requests to waive application fees for the Class of 2009, compared to 136 in the previous cycle. The total number of early applications rose to 4,165, up 7.2 percent from last year, when the College changed to a single-choice early action program.
The increase in fee waiver requests comes nine months after University President Lawrence H. Summers announced that the College would no longer require parental contributions from families earning less than $40,000 a year. The initiative, budgeted at $2 million, also reduced payments for students from families with annual incomes under $60,000.
“We know from past experience that people requesting fee waivers is a pretty good indication that they will be eligible for the new initiatives,” said Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons ’67. “We’re encouraged, obviously we’re encouraged. It certainly is an indication at least that we have more students from the bottom quarter, the bottom half of the American income distribution in the early pool.”
Fitzsimmons noted that because of the need-blind admissions policy, Byerly Hall will not know final financial figures for applicants until after students are admitted and their financial forms are reviewed.
The only significant demographic change was a 20 percent increase in African-American applicants, up to 198 from 164 last year. Otherwise, geographic and demographic breakdowns remained consistent with numbers for the Class of 2008 early pool.
On average, each Harvard class includes 250 students from families with annual incomes of less than $60,000, according to Fitzsimmons. He said that Byerly Hall is using this figure as a benchmark for the success of the financial aid initiative.
“As a student from this kind of background myself, I would be personally very unhappy,” Fitzsimmons said, if the College fails to admit more than 250 low-income students this year.
Almost 72 percent of early Class of 2009 applicants applied for financial aid, a slightly higher percentage than last year. The percentage of applicants requesting fee waivers remained small compared to the pool as a whole, at slightly more than five percent.
Summers’ announcement last February that Harvard would extend its financial aid program caused a buzz in higher education circles, garnering Harvard a flurry of positive media coverage and a “lot of interest” at a recent College Board conference in Chicago, according to Fitzsimmons.
“It’s hard to find a major public or private university that isn’t interested in the issue,” Fitzsimmons said.
But Yale President Richard Levin, in statements made at an open student forum at Yale last week, said that his university would not be following Harvard’s lead in expanding financial aid to lower-income families.
According to the Yale Daily News, Levin said Yale had studied Harvard’s plan and decided against enacting a similar program.
“The fact is for families [earning] under $40,000, the parental contribution is very small,” Levin said. “It’s not clear this is our highest priority move.”
The Yale student daily also reported that Levin called Princeton’s 2001 move to eliminate student loans a “PR move” and that Harvard’s plan only saves low-income earning families $500 in tuition fees.
Fitzsimmons disputed the latter figure yesterday, saying families earning under $40,000 in annual income save $2,300 per year.
“Yale like any school continuously reviews its financial aid policies to ensure that the institution remains affordable to all students who are admitted,” said Yale spokesman Tom Conroy yesterday.
In his talk, Levin said Yale has reduced student contributions by about one-third in the past few years, according to the Yale Daily News.
—Staff writer Michael M. Grynbaum can be reached at email@example.com.
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