February 28, 2004

Harvard does a good thing

My alma mater is doing something extremely cool. According to The New York Times:

Aiming to get more low-income students to enroll, Harvard will stop asking parents who earn less than $40,000 to make any contribution toward the cost of their children's education. Harvard will also reduce the amount it seeks from parents with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.

"When only 10 percent of the students in elite higher education come from families in the lower half of the income distribution, we are not doing enough," said Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard.

I love that.

I started thinking about it today, trying to remember what the socioeconomic issues were when I was there. Truth is, I know there weren't that many lower income kids, but I wasn't too aware of money as a big issue. Not like Los Angeles. Not even like Princeton, which I visited a few times during college. Princeton was like an elite boarding school only at the university level. Very much not my world.

Harvard, though. Well, a sweetheart of a guy in my freshman dorm was the first kid from Harlem to get into the school. His best buddy was later my sophomore roommate. She too was from a poor family, but New England countryside rather than inner city. Did they feel out of place there? I think they did, yes. In fact, I know they did. Both dropped out, though he later came back and I believe finished his education.

Truth is, it was fine to be middle class and ethnic and even a little odd at Harvard. You simply didn't socialize much with jet set if you were, but there were plenty of other interesting folk who liked you just fine. But it wasn't so easy to be from a lower class, underprivileged background. Nobody ostracised you but you also didn't know the unspoken rules of this society and there was hardly anyone else like you to hold hands and go through it together.

So I think what they're doing now, balancing things out, making it more accessible for people who can't afford even part of the cost, that's a mitzvah. It could change the nature of the undergraduate experience for everyone and certainly for the better.

(Thanks for the heads-up on this, Chris!)

Posted by Tamar at February 28, 2004 11:59 PM

Hey, nothing to it - I really wanted to hear your take. Personally, I think it;s beyond mitzvah. Did I ever think I'd tell my best community college students, "You could go to Harvard?" (Do you hear John Lennon's voice? You say you want a revolu-shun . .. . )

Posted by: Chris at February 29, 2004 05:58 AM

I particularly like the fact that it's based on family income and not race. I can see that this will make a huge difference to a lot of very poor-but-intelligent kids of all ethnic and racial backgrounds - it'll give them something to aim for. Wonderful!

Posted by: darby at February 29, 2004 01:20 PM

It is a mitzvah. I hope that one day soon my alma mater might follow suit. As the cost of college soars progressively higher and higher, any effort to make the upper echelons of education more accessible for those from lower incomes is a welcome and, IMO, necessary change.

Posted by: Dreama at February 29, 2004 01:46 PM