Harvard wants to be your state university. In a bold move to attract more middle-class applicants, Harvard University announced an expansion of its financial aid program last month, allowing families earning up to $180,000 a year to receive grant-based aid. Always the trendsetter, the move makes Harvard as affordable as public universities like our own, potentially drawing qualified applicants away from state schools and states that need them. Realistically, the University can’t hope to match this kind of grant-based financial aid, but the model is still one to mimic.

Tom Haynes

Harvard’s new financial aid program is essentially a progressive tuition model. While tuition is the same, the actual cost of attending the university is reduced for lower-income students by offering grants to almost all students based on need. Unlike debt-accruing loan programs, which just postpone the cost of college for students, grant-based financial aid is immediate relief. Students now pay what they can afford, making Harvard just as accessible no matter how much money students’ parents make.

Understandably, Harvard’s new program is out of the University of Michigan’s or the state of Michigan’s reach. Only a few private universities like Harvard can make this generous of an offer. The University, with an endowment of $7.1 billion, is at a slight disadvantage. Nonetheless, Harvard has raised the ante, stretching its commitment to become as affordable and accessible as possible, and our university and state shouldn’t back down.

The fact that states cannot compete financially with a private institution like Harvard is an embarrassment. In our own state it shows how poorly Michigan has done in ensuring the availability of quality education at a reasonable cost. Despite the state’s dire economic situation, it should still be able to deliver its promise of making Michigan a haven of higher education. If it doesn’t, the state will only fall farther behind the rest of the country.

The University should be doing its part as well. At the top of its priority list should be offering more grant-based loan packages, instead of burdensome loan-based packages, and utilizing the endowment to meet this goal. Private donations to the University often have earmarks designating their use for specific programs. Such donations are allocated to buildings, technology or specialty scholarships for instance. The University should require a percentage of all donations to go directly to a general fund, making them available for financial aid.

Along the same lines, the expansion of Harvard’s financial aid program is specifically designed to draw in students who would otherwise have never considered Harvard. The University should have the same commitment to economic diversity and accessibility. While extending financial aid to families earning up to $180,000 is unrealistic, the University must make efforts to increase financial aid for a larger income bracket.

Maybe the University can’t be a trendsetter like Harvard in developing a progressive, new tuition model. But together with state legislators, this is the University’s opportunity to be another kind of trendsetter: the kind that proves making college affordable doesn’t cost $35 billion.

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