Will Harvard Become Tuition-Free?

The New York Times: A “slate of candidates running for the Board of Overseers at Harvard” thinks the university “should stop charging tuition to undergraduates.” They see a tuition-free Harvard as an alternative to affirmative action, arguing “that if Harvard were free, more highly qualified students from all backgrounds would apply, and the university would no longer have trouble balancing its class for racial or ethnic diversity.”

Asian-Americans, in particular, are thought to be “short-changed” in the admissions process. In fact, a pending federal lawsuit accuses “the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. Harvard has denied the allegations.” Both the lawsuit and the slate of candidates are seeking “disclosure of data showing how the university’s freshman class is selected each year.”

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal says a tuition-free Harvard is not going to happen, however. “There is a common misconception that endowments, including Harvard’s, can be accessed like bank accounts, used for anything at any time as long as funds are available … In reality, Harvard’s flexibility in spending from the endowment is limited by the fact that it must be maintained in perpetuity and that it is largely restricted by the explicit wishes of those who contributed the endowed funds.”