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Money can’t buy everything, but a lot of things have prices.
This seems the motivating truism behind Harvard College’s recently announced “launch grants” for low-income students. Students whose annual family income is less than $85,000 will receive $2,000 in their junior fall to support their plans for “post-Harvard life.”
We welcome any effort from Harvard to improve life for its low-income students. But the meager size of this grant makes us wonder: What is this grant for?
According to administrators, Harvard designed launch grants to cover career search expenses, such as flights to in-person job interviews or test prep books. But considering the many rounds of re-interviewing and re-testing often needed to establish one’s first post-collegiate career today, $2,000 is simply not enough.
There are no restrictions on the use of this grant, so students are not required to use the money on career support. But this stated purpose indicates a disappointingly misdirected view of the real difficulties faced by low-income students on our campus, located in a city with a steep cost of living that just keeps rising.
For many low-income students, before they can start thinking about putting $2,000 toward travel, exams, or professional attire, they must pay for pressing basic necessities, such as food, errands, or bills. In this way, launch grants are a shallow gesture at greater equity.
To truly make good on this commitment to equity, Harvard should first make the College liveable for its most socioeconomically disadvantaged students, before continuing to expand the range of student backgrounds for which it will offer aid.
Harvard admits very few very low-income students to begin with; it is responsible for those it does. Comfort for low-income students should come before comfort for middle-class students.
That starts with Harvard exempting low-income students from the recurring costs in its control — for example, laundry and printing services. At $3 a full load and 4 to 15 cents a letter page, respectively, these expenses may seem trivial. But for low-income students who may be dealing with a plethora of other financial constraints, this small waiver can have a big impact.
More broadly, this is a first step for Harvard to provide more generous fiscal support for some of the more severe costs that low-income students struggle to shoulder, — from supporting family back home to financial emergencies.
If Harvard’s primary goal remains providing specifically career search support to low-income students, it can better achieve this aim by reimbursing low-income students for such expenses on a case-by-case basis. A flexible reimbursement system, as opposed to the one-time junior fall $2,000 grant, would support students with the amount of funding they genuinely need, on their own career advancement timelines.
Money is money, and launch grants are $2,000 in unrestricted cash. But where propelling low-income students at the College into the heights of postgraduate success is concerned, we’ve yet to see liftoff.
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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