Harvard's Aid Moves Could Increase Competition

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Competition to get into top colleges could heat up as schools seek to aid middle- and lower-income families.

Harvard University has overhauled its financial aid policies with the aim of making Harvard College more affordable for middle- and upper-middle-income families. Its approach includes enhanced grants, the elimination of student loans and the removal of home equity from its financial aid calculations.

The changes are part of a larger trend among top colleges - including Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, Williams, Yale and Amherst - to make college more affordable. According to the Boston Globe's calculations, a family making $180,000 a year now pays about $30,000 toward Harvard's annual cost. Under the new initiative that family would pay $18,000. A family making $120,000 would contribute $12,000, down from the current $19,000. It costs about $45,000 a year to attend Harvard.

The trend could spur even more competition among erstwhile undergraduates. According to researcher the Century Foundation, as cited by The Wall Street Journal, just 3 percent of students at the 146 most selective U.S. colleges were from families in the bottom 25 percent when ranked by income. Nearly three-quarters - 74 percent - came from families whose earnings were in the top 25 percent.

Earlier, Harvard revamped its policies to ensure families with incomes below $60,000 could more easily send their children to the school. In 2006, it announced the elimination of its early action program and moved to a single admissions deadline of Jan. 1, beginning in the 2007-08 academic year. The school says it uses the time and capacity freed up by the move to intensify its outreach and recruiting efforts, since admissions staff is now able to travel more widely to make presentations to prospective students, families, and college counselors.

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