Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How does it make you feel?

Harvard to Increase Financial Aid to Wealthy Families

1 comment:

Jake said...

Much as I applaud this move, I can't help but think that all it does is perpetuate the myth that Harvard is all about the best and the brightest. Changing the financial aid rules is great news (and with an endowment bigger than many nations, rather shameful that they waited this long), but it doesn't address the real problem of affirmative action for the wealthy. Legacy policies are at the root of the degradation and corruption of higher education in this country.

When I worked in an admission office at a boarding school, I would see time and again extraordinarily underqualified applicants accepted because we needed their tuition dollars. In one case, I argued strongly against admitting a student who was clearly not interested, not capable, and not even willing to try very hard. After I left, she was enrolled because of the wealth of her family. Granted, the school I worked at doesn't have a deep pocket, and tuition dollars are the vast majority of the operating budget. But when places like Harvard have these legacy policies, the ability to truly offer the best education suffers as entitled, underqualified scions of the rich displace potential students who actually believe in the value of education. That student I objected to left within a month, her paid-in-full tuition collected, leaving a space unfilled by one of the many more talented applicants I saw who couldn't pay.

Harvard is, of course, its own world. For a school like that to loudly trumpet this kind of change almost casts a pall over every other school that simply can't afford to do the same. While recognizing that the college and boarding school worlds are quite different, the impact of the big players must be somewhat similar. In my job, I tracked enrollment rates, and indeed, survival rates of small boarding schools like the one I was at. It was pretty grim. The name-brand schools see ever more applicants that they can't accept while the smaller schools are increasingly ignored, and don't have the resources to admit the ones in need anyhow. At the college level, I can almost hear the mid-size and small colleges sucking air through their teeth at what Harvard's announcement means to them.

I'm sure, however we can find a different view. Any takers? :)