Harvard Moves Forward With Financial Aid Initiative

The incoming Class of 2009 will be both the most competitive and the most economically diverse in Harvard’s history, an achievement that admissions officers attribute chiefly to the College’s new financial aid program.

Nearly 18 percent of next year’s freshman class hail from families earning less than $60,000 in annual income—a 3 percent increase over figures posted in recent years.

With a record-high 22,276 applicants, admission to the College became more selective than ever. Of that pool, 2,074 were accepted, driving down the acceptance rate to 9.1 percent, the lowest in the school’s history.

Harvard’s yield rose slightly to 78.5 percent, a 1 percent increase over last year’s level.

“It’s just a resounding success,” Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said last month.



The record numbers come on the heels of a year of heavy recruiting from Byerly Hall. The admissions office placed a special emphasis this year on the new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), which University President Lawrence H. Summers announced in February 2004.

The program waives the parental contribution to tuition for families earning less than $40,000 a year. In addition, it lowers the contribution for parents with annual incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.

The admissions office has not yet calculated final numbers for the cost of HFAI, but Fitzsimmons says he expects it will be just over $2 million.

“It could turn out to be more than that,” he adds. “Clearly we’re up in terms of the expenditures.”

Last year, HFAI cost Harvard slightly more than $1.9 million in aid to members of the Class of 2008.

According to recent estimates from the admissions office, 290 HFAI-qualifying students have accepted offers of admission to Harvard, generating a yield of 79 percent for that group—4 percent lower than the figure for last year, when the initiative first took effect.

Fitzsimmons attributes the decrease to the heightened competition among universities following Harvard’s lead in expanding their own financial aid packages to attract lower-income students.

In March, Yale unveiled a plan that eliminates the parental contribution for families earning less than $45,000 a year and lowers the cost to families earning between $45,000 and $60,000.

“We had more competition out there, and that’s good,” Fitzsimmons says. “Everybody wins in the end...if these students are able to go to good colleges.”

Fitzsimmons says that Harvard will allocate nearly $85 million for undergraduate financial aid next year. This record-high level marks a 56 percent increase over the past six years, according to the admissions office.