Incapacitation and Its Discontents

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Much in the news today about paying for college and college paying for you. American studies director Andrew Delbanco and former dean of students Roger Lehecka co-wrote a New York Times article about Harvard and Yale’s distribution of financial aid. Our Ivy brethren to the north, in an attempt to make attending college possible for “families across the spectrum”, have re-calculated their financial aid allocations to benefit families earning between $120k and $180k per year.

They argue that this decision will compel other universities to do the same–helping out more middle class and upper-middle class families. The problem is that most (read: all) schools simply do not have Harvard or Yale’s budget.  In all likelihood, the money going towards funding an upper-middle class student’s education is going to prevent many poorer students from receiving aid at all. The article also argues that most upper-middle class and middle class students are deserving of aid, but most “find a way to attend college.” Most poorer ones do not.

At $5.94 billion, Columbia’s endowment is paltry compared to Harvard ($35 billion) and Yale ($20 billion)—Kluge non-withstanding. It will be interesting to see if Columbia follows suit—after all, Yale only did this as a response to Harvard, with whom they knew they would be competing for students. But Columbia can’t afford to compete in the same financial league as Harvard and Yale, and poorer students can’t afford to have CU try.

Meanwhile, on the shadier side of business deals, the Associated Press is reporting that the relationship between study abroad programs and universities (including dear Alma Mater), is coming under fire. The New York Attorney General’s office has found links between colleges choosing certain programs and receiving perks—for instance, a program financing school administrators to stay in Rome for two weeks in order to check up on the program for four days. Columbia is one of 15 schools that has received subpoenas. The article was published quite serendipitously, as many students are heading en masse to JFK in the next week to go overseas for the semester. Bon voyage!


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  1. Uh...

    You might want to try running this one through the proof-reader again. Bwog.

  2. Christine CC'04

    Actually, I think the article was really setting itself up to talk about the government's role in funding education:

    "For every college to become accessible to talented students regardless of income, the federal government must create enhanced grant programs, progressive tax incentives and programs that reduce the debt of graduates who spend time in public service."

  3. albaniac

    andrew cuomo wastes his time "solving" small fry scandals (that is, when he's not creating them). spitzer should just pull a musharraf and consolidate the attorney general and governor's offices into an all powerful corruption witchhunt machine.

  4. how come pirates  

    get to go to columbia for free?

    Financial Raid!

  5. ...  


  6. why  

    does this post disparage on Columbia. Bwog acts like we don't compete with Yale and Harvard for students.

  7. endowment  

    I am pretty sure our endowment is now somewhere in the mid-$7 billion range.

    Looks like you got the $5.94 straight off a Google search, which shows data from 2005, I think. That was before the Columbia Campaign was started. I wouldn't be surprised to see our endowment reach $10+ billion in another two years.

    You also reason that lower class aid packages would be hurt by giving more to middle class students, that is simply wrong. Columbia would not start to neglect low income students by diverting aid to middle class students, they would just start to distribute any new financial aid funds to a much wider spectrum of students. (read: more students will receive help without compromising the packages of those already receiving it.) The NYTimes article assumes that Harvard and Yale are going in the wrong direction by giving middle class students more money from their endowments, when really that is the only direction they can take. I predict Harvard and Princeton, maybe Yale, will eliminate tuition altogether within the next 10 years.

    • Christine CC'04

      Right. I don't think the article is an indictment against distributing funds to a wider group or that H/Y are doing it, but that these initiatives don't actually address the high costs of education at large for those who can't afford it. Whereas other schools may want to follow suit, most schools don't have the endowment to absorb the costs. The onus of responsibility can't be on individual schools but on something bigger.

  8. endowed

    I concur with #8. The logic of the author is entirely flawed. It is preposterous to suggest that the intent of this new financial aid system is to deny assistance to poorer students- many of whom are not paying any tuition whatsoever, in fact, under the generous grant policy. I would add that it is also absurd to wholeheartedly accept the absurd attestations of our university administrators, who, in the midst of a capital campaign, would have you believe that our school is under financial duress. The fact that we do not have as much money as our peers does not make us poor as an intitution. Donald Trump can hardly compete with Warren Buffet, but one would hardly call him deprived.

  9. Elna, '08  

    What has not really been addressed by the article, and seems to be misundertsood, is that Harvard's decision to extend greater aid to middle and upper-middle class students does not affect recruitment or admissions policies. For need-blind institutions, generally and ideally, financial aid packages are developed after acceptance from a rigorous pool of applicants. What Harvard's new plan does is make it easier for all accepted students to chose Harvard over full-ride state or other university's scholarship packages. My own college application process was frought with decisions on whether to choose full-ride Penn State over Columbia and NYU. Even though my family makes around 100,000, we would have been expected to pay for almost $30,000/year at NYU, which is entirely impossible. Thank god Columbia was need-blind. I think that what Delbano really should have emphasized in his article is not just that middle/upper-middle classs students now have access to better funding, but that these initiatives are not being coupled with a better minority or lower-income/rural/inner-city student recruitment program. That is more of a problem than alleviating the debt of an over-taxed, underserviced, heavily indebted income level in American society.

  10. problems

    I can't speak for the recruitment problem that you mention, but I would say that a much larger problem is the public school system in rural/inner-city areas. You cannot recruit students who unfortunately have not acquired an adequate high-school education.

    • anonymous

      Let me correct you: We -should not- recruit students without an adequate high school education.

      And yet, day after day, I suspect that Columbia does not always follow this advice.

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