Rice University has a new financial aid policy. How generous is that?
Yesterday my alma mater, Rice University, announced a major new financial aid initiative aimed at making the elite private school more affordable for low- and middle-income students. Under the terms of the plan, which will take effect for the 2019-2020 school year, students from families with a combined income of less than $ 65,000 will receive grants that fully cover tuition (currently $ 46,600), fees. ($ 750), room ($ 9,600) and board ($ 4,400). Students from families earning between $ 65,000 and $ 130,000 will receive full tuition grants, while those from families earning between $ 130,000 and $ 200,000 will receive at least half of the tuition.
It sounds incredibly generous – and it is. In reality, however, Rice is catching up with the elite private schools that she sees as her peers. The likes of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Duke all have well-established financial aid programs designed to make college affordable for middle and lower class families. While details vary, all of these elite establishments offer free rides to families earning less than $ 65,000 per year and pay a substantial portion of the tuition and expenses for families earning up to $ 200,000. .
At Harvard, for example, families earning between $ 65,000 and $ 150,000 are invited to contribute. no more than 10 percent of their annual income towards the total cost of an Ivy League education. Families earning up to $ 125,000 do not pay tuition to send their child to Stanford, while those earning up to $ 140,000 get free lessons at Princeton. For most admitted students, getting an education in these schools may be cheaper than going to a public school; Harvard believes that 90% of Americans pay less to enroll in Cambridge than to attend their local public university.
Rice still lags behind its peers in some ways. First, its new financial assistance plan, called the Investment in rice, is limited to American students. Several of the US News and World ReportTop-ranked universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, are committed to fully funding the proven financial need of accepted undergraduates, regardless of their country of origin. And while Rice continues to include loans in financial aid programs for families earning $ 150,000 and more, seventeen wealthy universities and liberal arts schools have eliminated loans from their aid programs.
Additionally, it is not known whether rice is much more affordable today than it was in decades past. From its opening in 1912 to 1965, the university charged no tuition fees, as stated in its charter. Even after revising its charter to allow it to collect tuition fees, the university remained much cheaper than other large private schools, regularly topping the lists of the most “profitable” American colleges.
As a second generation owl, my family experience reflects this story. My mother and brother came from a lower middle-class single parent family in San Antonio, but were able to afford a rice education through free classes in my uncle’s case (class of 1966) and a scholarship in the case of my uncle. from my mother (class of 1972). My uncle helped offset the cost of accommodation and meals by scrubbing the dishes in the kitchen of his residential college – obviously a common instruction manual for students at the time.
By the time I enrolled in 2003, Rice’s undergraduate tuition was around $ 20,000. (Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough not to need financial help when I went.) Rice still had a reputation for being a relatively affordable alternative to Ivies, but this touted affordability has taken a toll. Heavy blow under current President David Leebron, under whom tuition plus has doubled to the jaw-dropping figure of $ 46,600 for 2018-2019. Thanks to generous financial aid, most students do not pay this price. But Rice’s net cost of dating is still significantly higher than that of her peers. According to Navigator of the College of the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost (total cost minus financial aid) to attend Rice in 2016-17 was $ 24,131, compared to $ 16,302 at Princeton, $ 16,562 at Stanford, and $ 17,030 at Harvard.
Private universities have been widely criticized for their high tuition fees. In 2016, Rice was one of the schools that received a letter from members of Congress wonder why tuition growth has continued to outpace inflation despite massive endowments, such as Rice’s $ 5.8 billion, which makes it one of the richest universities in the world. Universities have generally responded by arguing that charging high tuition fees to wealthy students subsidizes cheap tuition fees for poor and middle-class students. They used this argument to justify continuing to increase tuition fees while increasing financial aid.
Of course, a cynic might argue that elite universities wouldn’t need to provide so much financial aid if they didn’t charge so much upfront. And there is a real danger that the sticker shock will scare worthy low-income students from even applying to students like Rice. A recent study found that around 80% of low-income, high-performing students does not apply to a single selective institution. Many low-income students receive poor college counseling in their high schools due to tight budgets.
Such was the beauty of Rice’s original tuition-free model, in part inspired by the New York Cooper Union – whose decision to start charging tuition in 2013 proved so controversial that it recently announced that he was reversing his trajectory. The typical Rice student in the early sixties, according to my uncle, was a country or small town student in Texas with modest means but a large IQ. Sometimes earning a coveted place in Rice was their only opportunity for a college education. Every high school student in the state knew that if they were smart and worked hard, they could get a free education. (Unless, of course, they’re black – shamefully, Rice didn’t start admitting African Americans until 1965, the same year school fees started.)
As a Rice alumnus, I hope the school’s recently announced financial aid program will bring the school back to this egalitarian tradition. But I also wonder if my alma mater shouldn’t just drop the Rube Goldberg-type financial aid system that increasingly defines American higher education and go back to the days of free tuition for all.
[A previous version of this story stated that students from families making up to $140,000 received a “full ride” from Princeton. Such students receive free tuition but must pay a portion of their room and board.]