Tuition and aid policies in private higher education appear to be quite fluid this week. The day after Harvard University announced a huge expansion of aid for students in families with incomes up to $180,000, three private colleges in California were preparing for big changes in their aid policies.
One of the motivations announced by Harvard officials was concern that middle-income students were bypassing the university for public flagships. And Harvard officials asserted that their plan would make Harvard and public flagships cost the same for many families.
That was the idea behind a program announced by California Lutheran University, which is at the very least unusual and may be unique. The university announced that anyone admitted as a freshman for the fall, who is also admitted by either the University of California at Santa Barbara or the University of California at Los Angeles, will be charged only what the charges would have been at one of those public universities. Based on the gaps between California Lutheran's tuition (total charges are just under $40,000) and those of the public system, a student who earns one of these UC Guarantee Scholarships will save at least $60,000 over four years.
The institution with a program closest to California Lutheran's is Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, which has a new scholarship that is designed to make costs at Saint Mary's equal to those at the University of Minnesota. The Saint Mary's program is limited to students with family incomes of up to $75,000, however, while the California Lutheran program has no income requirement.
Matthew Ward, dean of undergraduate enrollment at California Lutheran, said that the institution currently admits around 100 students each year who also are admitted at Santa Barbara and a handful who are also admitted to UCLA. "Those numbers aren't as many as we would like," Ward said.
As at Harvard, Ward said he was worried about what he's hearing about students who don't apply. "Many students don't apply because of costs," he said. "Students are driven by a very overtaxed, bureaucratic public school system that pushes students into public colleges as their first option," he said. "I think there are many students and parents and counselors who would potentially consider private college education and it's not on their radar because of price. With this, we're hoping we get a nice ripple effect."
Of California Lutheran's 2,000 undergraduates, about 70 percent are from California.
Also in California on Tuesday, the California Institute of Technology announced that it was replacing loans with grants for all new students from families with incomes up to $60,000. Caltech's move follows a series of announcements by colleges and universities -- including Duke University, Wesleyan University and Williams College -- that they were eliminating loans completely or for low-income students.
Pomona College is expected to announce a significant shift in its aid policies today.
The Project on Student Debt maintains a list of colleges that have made various pledges about replacing loans with grants.