A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about how a slate of candidates running for Harvard’s Board of Overseers (a group that includes multiple-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader) was running on a platform of free tuition for undergraduates. They’re also quite vocal about the discrimination that Asian American applicants face in the admissions process to their alma mater. In our response piece, we wrote about how the notion of free tuition for undergraduate students at Harvard was preposterous, that any notion of relying on the gigantic Harvard endowment to finance this proposal demonstrated a lack of understanding of investments. After all, one cannot just pull money from an endowment at will — much of it is vested.
It seems that Harvard’s president Drew Faust agrees with us. In a piece by Andrew M. Duehren and Daphne C. Thompson in “The Harvard Crimson” entitled “Faust Condemns Free Tuition Proposal from Outsider Overseers Ticket,” Faust says, “The kind of program that is being proposed here funds a lot of students who we don’t think have need, from families who could and should afford to pay for their student’s education. We would be using an enormous amount of institutional resources to subsidize families who could easily afford to support their children in college.” She couldn’t be more right.
The fact is that highly selective colleges rely on their endowments. No university in America has a larger endowment than does Harvard but that doesn’t mean the school doesn’t also rely on tuition dollars. If Harvard offered free tuition to all undergraduates, they likely would no longer have the largest endowment and it’s simply not sustainable. And as Faust argues, if families can pay the full cost of tuition comfortably, why shouldn’t they? Why should a Harvard education be free to such families?
We have a feeling this slate of candidates to Harvard’s Board of Overseers will be about as successful as Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns.