CORRECTION: The original headline for this article, “Study that showed CSU cheaper than Harvard found inaccurate,” was inaccurate.
Last March saw California’s higher education system under heavy scrutiny by allegedly failing to live up to its preset standards and garnered further criticism when the San Jose Mercury News released the article “Believe it: Harvard cheaper than Cal State.”
The article reported that after the recent rise in tuition fees for the CSU and UC systems, attending Harvard would turn out to be cheaper, in part thanks to financial aid.
The San Jose Mercury News presented the unaided Harvard tuition figure of $36,305, which excluded room, books and other living expenses. In comparison was the U.C. Santa Cruz total billed and unbilled figure of $33,000.
Billed costs include room, tuition, fees and on campus meals. Unbilled costs include books, transportation, supplies and personal expenses.
The article stated that a student who receives financial aid and comes from a family that earns $130,000 annually, will pay $19,500 at U.C. Santa Cruz or $17,000 at Harvard. Figure estimates were obtained using a tuition calculator offered by each school, according to Matt Krupnick, the writer of the article.
While the paper’s calculations are correct, the details behind the figures have individuals within California’s higher education system puzzled.
“What the article confused its readers with was not mentioning other factors for such low tuition cost,” said Audrey Kahane, a newspaper columnist and college admissions counselor based in West Hills.
Harvard’s actual total billed and unbilled costs ran up to $57,950, barring the $2,168 student health insurance fee.
Students with families earning up to $160,000 are eligible to receive aid and are expected to contribute only 10 percent or less of their income, due to the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative.
Furthermore, families of higher income brackets are still eligible to receive aid when taking into consideration individual circumstances.
The initiative, which started in 2006, offers students education with no expected parental contribution if they earn less than $65,000.
The endowments belonging to the private university helps them offer scholarships that might not be available at public schools, said Florentino Manzano, the current vice president of student services at Los Angeles Valley College.
“Besides a simple look, what should be obvious is that the state isn’t putting enough money in our education,” Manzano said.
Endowments have a deep impact in a university’s future. When growing due to donations from alumni and return in investments, endowments are used to pay management fees and take the brunt in investment losses.
The Harvard Management Company website, charged with handling the university’s financial matters, reports a $32 billion endowment at its disposal. UCSC handles a $93.7 million endowment, last reported in 2009, while sharing the 2011 $22.7 billion UC system budget with 10 other universities.
The Harvard endowment, currently the largest in the United States, is used for the university’s academic programs, supporting the financial aid initiative and continue with medical research.
The income amount chosen by Mercury News was misleading due to them picking a financial threshold that empowered the private schools and disadvantaged the public system, according to Dr. Elizabeth Adams, senior director of undergraduate studies at CSUN.
Adams finds Harvard’s financial aid program empowering, letting middle to lower income students enter the prestigious institution. Yet there are issues on how it is depicted in the article.
“Most private institutions who are somewhat or as selective as Harvard, are not going to offer you close to that package of financial aid or grants,” said Adams. “They may cost just as much but students will leave with much larger loan burdens. The aid Harvard offers is an anomaly.”
Those interviewed echo one another in that Harvard’s financial accessibility shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but as Adams put it, “People are being priced out of an education.”
After all, not all college bound students can enter Harvard.