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Harvard Students, Citing Record Endowment Revenue, Seek to Abolish Tuition Fees

Wednesday, Dec 1 1999
December 1, 1999

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. -- Student leaders at Harvard University are demanding that the venerable institution abolish tuition fees for all undergraduates.

Leaders of the movement for a no-cost Harvard education claim that the bullish economy has inflated the school's endowment to such proportions that charging undergraduates tuition has become financially unnecessary. The protesters are also demanding that the university, the oldest in the nation, adopt an aggressive approach to student admissions and retention so that no student will be denied access to the Ivy League university for financial reasons.

While it is not the first time that students at Harvard have petitioned for a universal "free ride," the recent upsurge in the stock market has made it easier for them to back up their idealistic rhetoric with realistic figures. According to the Harvard University Fact Book, in 1998 the school enjoyed capital gains of 18.4 percent, yielding an added income of almost $2.4 billion generated solely by its endowment. By contrast, the school took in only $47 million from tuition fees last year.

The recent crusade to revoke tuition fees at Harvard has another, perhaps even more significant, advantage over previous failed attempts -- student proponents who enjoy across-the-board support. Known popularly on campus as "Free Harvard," the movement draws on a diverse base of student leaders and activists who have banded together to fight tuition fees.

At a recent and rowdy meeting of the Harvard-Radcliffe Undergraduate Council, representatives from the school's Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, African-American, Asian-American, and Latino student groups turned out to support a resolution revoking the school's authority to levy activity fees. While that resolution, which passed by an overwhelming vote, addressed only the involuntary tax that many universities tack on to tuition charges, the gesture is widely interpreted as merely the opening salvo in a war on tuition pricing.

The resolution's sponsor, James Leverett, says, "The time for truly opening up Harvard to all Americans with proven academic prowess is now." Leverett is the HRUC's vice president and the most recent of eight generations of Leveretts to attend Harvard. Argues Leverett: "If the administration dedicated just one-tenth of the interest it earns off its stock holdings, every undergraduate could be released from the yoke of annual tuition."

Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine points out that while tuition for Harvard's 1999-2000 academic year has been set at $34,350, the university's average financial aid package offsets total fees by as much as $24,200. "We appreciate the spirit of the protests," says Rudenstine, "but we have a duty to the long-term health of the university. In short, we have to worry about the class of 2033 as well as the class of 2003."

While Harvard boasts the richest endowment of any U.S. educational institution, almost all private colleges and universities maintain interest-bearing trusts funded in large part by the generosity of alumni. If the additional income generated by the current stock market boom were applied to tuition relief, private schools like Harvard and Stanford could end up costing less than the public universities subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.

South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being satirized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental. Comments?

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