Last night at 1:30am, I received an email from Stanford, which read:
Tomorrow, Stanford will announce significant changes in its financial aid program that will make undergraduate education more affordable for families receiving aid. We want you, our alumni, to be among the first to hear this news.[…]
Stanford University today announced the largest increase in its history for its financial aid program for undergraduates.
Under the new program, parents with incomes of less than $100,000 will no longer pay tuition. Parents with incomes of less than $60,000 will not be expected to pay tuition or contribute to the costs of room, board and other expenses.
The program also eliminates the need for student loans.
What a breathtaking move. By following in other top universities’ recent moves, Stanford and all of America’s top universities have effectively made themselves free for families without high incomes.
But what’s even more interesting is the fact that it removes yet another barrier for high-school students who wouldn’t apply to Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, etc. When I was in high school, the single-best deterrent to applying to a top university was not my friends’ actual financial situations. It was not their GPA or list of activities or their access to a computer.
It was just their conviction that they couldn’t get in.
Oh yes, they had dozens of reasons why they wouldn’t bother applying. “I couldn’t get in if I tried,” many of them said. Or the limited-resources fallacy: “They’d never take me because the other students applying are way more qualified than I am.” (It’s true that Stanford rejects enough valedictorians to fill its freshman class each year.) Perhaps most sadly, “I couldn’t afford it even if I got in,” they say, despite Stanford’s own website explaining that , “Financial aid was provided to about 77 percent of undergraduate students…in 2005-2006.” (I’m so fanatical about scholarships that I wrote up a guide to get over $100,000 in scholarships.)
And so the students who don’t apply select themselves out and, by definition, never have a chance.
This is about more than college admission.
The world is making it easier for people to excel. Blogs make it possible to get larger readerships than most national columnists. You can reach anyone with a single email. And the best education at the best universities is now nearly free.
I guess the question is, when all the barriers you’ve been holding on begin dwindling away, what do you do? Grasp around for another excuse? Or change and do something?
PS–I know many of you have younger brothers and sisters in high school. Please do me a favor and send them this post. The links in this post alone have enough information to get them thousands of dollars in scholarships.[Update, 2/21: See an amazing response to this post here]