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Tuition Cut for Some Middle-, Upper-Income Students

Harvard recently announced cuts in tuition for middle- and upper-income students. Analysts Richard Kahlenberg and Scott Jaschik discuss the recent trend in making college more affordable.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the college affordability story. Jeffrey Brown has our report.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    As the cost of higher education keeps climbing, so does the amount of money parents and students are borrowing. A handful of the country's most elite private schools and a few public ones have begun to address the problem in recent years.

    The latest announcement came from Harvard University yesterday. It plans to provide more aid for students from middle-class and some higher-income families.

    Families who earn between $120,000 and $180,000 a year will pay on average no more than 10 percent of their income. Families earning between $60,000 and $120,000 will see their contributions decline on a sliding scale from 10 percent of income and on down. Costs will be waived completely for families earning $60,000 a year or less.

    And for those who do need financial aid, students loans will be replaced with grants.

    For a look at this, we turn to Richard Kahlenberg who follows these issues for the Century Foundation, a not-for-profit research institution, and Scott Jaschik. He's the editor of the publication Inside Higher Ed.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Scott Jaschik, starting with you, Harvard gets far more applications than it could possibly fill. So why is it doing this?

  • SCOTT JASCHIK, Inside Higher Ed:

    Well, Harvard has a few concerns. One is that the students who are at Harvard who are on financial aid, who have to borrow a lot, feel limited in what they can do, in terms of extracurricular activities while they're there and in terms of taking perhaps low-paying, but well-serving jobs in society after they leave. So they're concerned about the current students.

    They also think they're missing some students, students who don't even apply because they hear how expensive it is and instead opt to attend some of the better public universities all over the country.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Richard Kahlenberg, are there studies that tell us how the make-up of the class, say, at Harvard is affected by income?

  • RICHARD KAHLENBERG, The Century Foundation:

    Well, clearly, there is tremendous stratification throughout higher education, but particularly in the elite institutions like Harvard.

    The Century Foundation commissioned a study recently that found that at the 146 most selective colleges and universities, 74 percent of students come from the richest economic quartile and only 3 percent from the bottom economic quartile. So in other words, you're 25 times as likely to run into a rich kid as a poor kid on campus.

    But Harvard is recognizing that the middle two income quartiles are underrepresented, as well. They've got 50 percent of the population, but only 23 percent of the slots. And so I think what Harvard is doing here is taking a step in the right direction and trying to democratize higher education a little bit more.