On December 10th, 2007, Harvard President Drew Faust and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Michael D. Smith, announced their new, innovating financial aid program in an attempt to make Harvard more affordable for families of all incomes, but particularly for families of middle and upper middle incomes. Major improvements were made in awarding grants, eliminating student loans and removing home equity values from the financial aid calculations, as well as eliminating the contribution made by families with incomes less than $60,000:

“Families with incomes above $120,000 and below $180,000 and with assets typical for these income levels,” Harvard announced, “will be asked to pay 10 percent of their incomes. For those with incomes below $120,000, the family contribution percentage will decline steadily from 10 percent, reaching zero for those with incomes at $60,000 and below.”

“We want all students who might dream of a Harvard education to know that it is a realistic and affordable option,” said President Faust. ”Education is fundamental to the future of individuals and the nation, and we are determined to do our part to restore its place as an engine of opportunity, rather than a source of financial stress. With no loans, no consideration of home equity, and a dramatic increase in grant aid, we are not tinkering at the margins, we are rebuilding the engine…This is a huge investment for Harvard, but there is no more important commitment we could make. Excellence and opportunity must go hand in hand,” he said.

NOT SO FAST WITH YOUR APPLAUSE. Before you begin offering words of praise for Harvard’s proclaimed financial aid initiative, consider whether or not, as we’ve seen so many times before, all of those carefully chosen words are as empty as the pot at the end of a rainbow that nobody ever finds. Could it be that the Ivy League giant has already balked on their promise and that some of their groundbreaking financial assistance is nothing more than a lot of hype?

Two of the families I counseled are sending their kids off to join the Class of 2012 and have been gravely disappointed by the new Harvard financial aid program as promised in their earth shattering announcement.

With a $35 billion endowment fund, one may wonder why Harvard would cheat a family with virtually no assets out of $750. It’s beyond comprehension, but that is exactly what they did to a New England family with a 2007 income far less than $150,000. And, despite my advice, they were petrified at the prospect of challenging Harvard’s initial offer, fearing they would jeopardize their student’s future at the prestigious school. Consequently, they didn’t.

The second family let down by the announced financial aid enhancements is from the Midwest and had an income of just over the $180,000 threshold. There were some extenuating circumstances and, accordingly, I suggested an appeal. Lo and behold, Harvard sprung for an additional $6,000, but only after discounting numerous business expenses that the IRS had accepted! And if all of Harvard’s glitter is gold, why was the appeal necessary in the first place?

One thing is certain, if Harvard low balled their financial aid offers to these families, it is safe to assume there are others who have had the crimson pulled over their eyes. I welcome any Harvard family, and since we’re on the subject, any other college or college-bound family, to contact me for a FREE financial analysis to determine if they too were short changed and if there is any way to obtain additional financial aid. (There usually is.)

Over the past ten years, prompted by the leadership of former president, Neil L. Rudenstine, Harvard’s grant appropriations have increased 143 percent, and in 2008 and beyond, more than 90 percent of Harvard families will qualify for what appears, on the surface, to be a most generous financial aid program. Two-thirds of the students currently attending receive some form of financial aid and need-based scholarships are awarded to half of them. This brings Harvard’s total aid assistance for 2008 to more than $98 million – about ½ of 1% of the total funds they have available.

Fact is, Harvard has so much money it could actually pay the tuition for the entire student body for the next 100 years and still have billions of dollars left over! So, let the borrower beware. Before you canonize America’s most sought after college for taking up the financial aid torch, remember that while the lyric may be new, we’ve all heard that tune before, and it ain’t necessarily so.

Do the math. Appeal an unappealing award offer, and take no grant for granted. Trust should never be a gift – it should be earned, every year a student is in school…

Author's Bio: 

Reecy Aresty has been a financial advisor since 1977. He has authored, "How To Pay For College Without Going Broke," an invaluable, critically acclaimed parent/student manual. Arguably the most revealing book ever written on college admissions & financial aid, it is the only book of its kind also available in Spanish. In a career spanning almost three decades, Reecy has helped thousands of students get admitted to the schools of their choice, and helped parents provide a college education for less than they ever imagined possible.

Reecy has been interviewed by financial experts on radio and television, and by many of the nation's most respected publications including Money Magazine, US News & World Report, Bloomberg News, Scripps Howard, The Washington Post, Terry Savage (personal finance columnist for the Chicago Sun Times), Consumers Digest and AOL.

Recently, Reecy created The College Information Network™ including The High School Blog, The College Blog, Payless For College and The Way To College dot coms. A Google search for “Reecy Aresty” will result in thousands of links to sites all over the world that feature his articles, advice and methods. He presents free seminars coast to coast, and his innovative appeal/negotiating techniques have turned unappealing award letters into millions of dollars of additional financial aid.

Reecy's book is a warehouse of information that makes it possible for virtually any family to beat the colleges and the federal government at their own game. For further information contact Reecy Aresty at: reecy@PaylessForCollege.com, 561.477.9639, or visit Paylessforcollege.com.