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In an exciting turn of events, the College has just announced that starting with the Class of 2026, Harvard families whose annual income falls below $75,000 will not be required to contribute anything toward their student’s tuition, room, or board. This $10,000 shift from the previous $65,000 household income threshold will encompass families above the median U.S. household income. This expansion of financial aid is an accomplishment worth applauding, and we are extremely happy to see a lightening of the financial burdens of attending Harvard for lower-income students in our community.
The thrill of this development directly follows the announcement of the Class of 2026’s record-low admissions rate. The timing of this notification may raise a few eyebrows — the publication of sweeping elimination of tuition requirements has been known to drive plummeting acceptance rates like in the case of the tuition-less NYU Medical School. Hopefully, this development isn’t singularly aimed at enhancing Harvard’s brand of exclusivity.
Although the expansion of our full financial aid coverage should be celebrated, to blindly applaud the University would help paint an illusion of socioeconomic diversity at Harvard when in reality, Harvard is far from being economically diverse. Sixty-seven of Harvard students hail from the top 20 percent of the income bracket. Their median family income is $168,800. At a place that could be the most potent of social equalizers, only “1.8% of students at Harvard came from a poor family but became a rich adult,” according to the New York Times.
The College's financial aid, then, while incredible, only reaches those who overcome the near-impossible odds of gaining admission without the economic privilege that evidently, unjustly opens the door to this institution far wider. We are extremely glad to see Harvard take such an ambitious step toward economic justice in one corner of its institutional project, but precisely because of this, we believe that the University surely can and should take equally ambitious steps towards economic justice in who it brings here in the first place.
For example, free-of-charge summer programs designed to extend high-quality educational opportunities to those without the economic means can contribute meaningfully towards closing the inequalities prospective applicants face in their time before college. To find a model for such a program, Harvard need only look a few miles down the Charles River, where MIT (virtually) hosts the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community program, which provides an intensive six-month educational experience to many underserved students without any tuition. Such stop-gap efforts cannot break down the countless barriers to higher education and social mobility in a profoundly unequal society, but they are a good way to mitigate some of the issues. Ultimately, Harvard must adjust how it evaluates applications altogether to critically account for the many ways in which economically disadvantaged applicants are prevented from presenting the most competitive applications.
As the promise of increasingly generous financial aid encourages more lower-income applicants to apply, this University must also remember that its obligation to these students does not end upon the delivery of their acceptance letter. To be clear, Harvard’s clarity in setting red-lines like $75k is certainly helpful for applicants that may otherwise be deterred by the costs of attending Harvard, even if they are able to overcome Harvard’s exceptionally low acceptance rates.
However, we hope that Harvard’s Financial Aid Office continues to tailor to the individual circumstances above the minimum financial aid that they promise and do more for the students who have overcome tremendous odds to set foot on this campus. The inequalities that make Harvard’s financial aid program so remarkable also require similarly ambitious efforts to continually improve the experience of low-income students throughout their time on campus. After all, economic inequalities that can lead to all sorts of disparities in student experiences are not simply eradicated by a financial aid award upon admission, even if it has become more generous.
Valuable initiatives like the start-up grant, which gives qualifying freshmen $1,000 to cover the unexpected costs of their first year at the College, demonstrate that Harvard can design creative and genuinely useful programs to ease the difficulties faced by low-income students. For the many upperclassmen facing similar struggles, though, it seems Harvard has chosen not to provide this same support — a mistake it must correct.
Much like Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzimmons ’67, we are also extremely thrilled about this ambitious step towards making Harvard a more accessible place for everyone. We have no doubt that this decision will meaningfully improve the lives of many families both in our community and yet to enter it. For now, we will celebrate. But in the back of our minds, we can’t help but ask: what else will Harvard do to further its commitment to economic diversity and open its gates to the greatest young minds all over the world — and treat them well even after they have arrived on this campus and contributed to the University’s brand of exclusivity and tremendous equalizing potential?
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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