There is a very interesting piece in today’s “New York Times” by Stephanie Saul entitled “A Push to Make Harvard Free Also Questions the Role of Race in Admissions” that we figured we’d comment on. The piece focuses on a conservative advocate (is that a job?) by the name of Rob Unz who is pushing for two things as he and four others seek election to Harvard’s Board of Overseers: 1.) free tuition for Harvard undergraduates and 2.) full disclosure on the inner workings of admissions decisions, a process Mr. Unz and the other members of his slate believe discriminates against Asian and Asian American applicants.
Regular readers of our college admissions blog know that Harvard has the biggest endowment of any school in America so it doesn’t seem implausible that the university would be able to foot the educations of their entire undergraduate student body. On the surface. With the key phrase being…on the surface. Because while seemingly noble, it’s a preposterous idea that has no foundation in the principles of investment. Much of the endowment is earmarked for certain funds. Money can’t just be pulled out. It’s invested, sometimes for years at a time depending upon the fund of course. We like what Jeff Neal has to say here, as quoted in the piece in “The New York Times”: “‘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,’ Jeff Neal, a Harvard spokesman, said. ‘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.'” In the words of Michelle from “Full House,” “duh!” Did anybody get our reference? Come on…
If you ask us, Harvard Board of Overseers candidate Rob Unz seems to have a fundamental lack of understanding of how college endowments work.
And while Harvard, and all highly selective colleges, surely do discriminate against Asian and Asian American applicants, what on earth does this have to do with the cause of free tuition for undergraduates? It seems that Mr. Unz and the slate of candidates (one of whom recently filed a brief against Harvard for allegedly discriminating against Asian Americans) are just trying to find a platform — a soapbox if you will — from which they can raise their voices in the hope of getting elected to the Board of Overseers. But we have a feeling this slate won’t fare so well in light of the fact that Harvard relies on tuition dollars, making a big basis of these candidates’ platform entirely nonsensical. So there’s that…oh and the fact that we’d argue no school is more generous with financial aid awards than Harvard. But that didn’t make this slate’s platform. After all, it doesn’t advance their cause.
Oh, and last but certainly not least, let’s not forget that not even Cooper Union can afford to finance all of their students’ full tuition anymore (less a couple of hundred dollars students used to pay). It was amazing that they were able to do it for all the years they did, but they’re just not able to do it anymore.