Stanford Offers Free Tuition To Low and Middle-Income Families

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You may have heard that Stanford University is waiving tuition for students with families making less than $100,000 annually. If your family makes less than $60,000, room and board is waived as well. This is not chump change: Annual tuition for Stanford is around $35,000 a year and housing is $11,000 a year.

What was interesting was the last line: Only about a third of students are expected to qualify. According to the 2006 census only 19% of US households made more than $100,000. For the students at Stanford, approximately 67% of families make more than $100,000. Of course, Stanford is in California where the incomes are higher overall. Still, this information makes me want to know the income breakdown of various community, state, and private schools out there. It will also be interesting to see what Stanford’s make-up becomes after this decision comes into effect.

In an ideal world, such things wouldn’t matter, but it’s quite apparent from this move that it does. Many qualified students don’t apply to certain schools due to high costs, and this will help Stanford get more of those kids. Financial aid may bridge the gap with loans, but not everyone wants to leave school with $100,000 in loans.

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  1. This makes me wonder, when the policy is in effect, whether or not it will affect admissions decisions. If I were stanford and had two basically equally bright seeming students, would I pick the one who would pay more, or the one I’d have to subsidize?

    But still, it is a great thing. I think princeton does something similar.

  2. Some of this may be a stipulation of large endowments they get from the likes of Hewlett Packard. However it happens, it is nice to see them opening their gates for those who wouldn’t go due to the high costs.

  3. I’m sure they probably have a cap on the amount of students they will subsidize. However it does give them some good PR and it gives an opportunity to students that wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to attend school there without taking on mega loans.

    A win win for everybody here.

  4. Sjean et al.-

    Stanford’s admissions policy is need-blind, and has been thus for years. That means students are admitted without consideration of how much (if any) subsidy is necessary.


  5. Harvard said that they wanted to lower the cost for middle income students because they were choosing not to go or even apply because of cost. I’m not sure if Standford thinks that is the case but if they want to lower that 67% number making over $100k, I don’t think looking at the household incomes of the overall US population is a good baseline. Rather look at the household incomes of kids with an SAT score in the top 10%. I bet the percentage higher than $100K is more than 19%.

  6. Stanford is need-blind, meaning they decide whether or not to accept you before looking at your financial aid requests. Most (if not all) prestigious universities are need-blind, and not need-based.

  7. Yah, there’s something nice about this, but it does miss the larger issue, which your post raises.

    This is basically a question over social meritocracy–whether we reward people based on abilities and talent, or social connections. But if Stanford is already a need-blind institution, but 67% of families make over $100,000, then something else is going on here.

    It would suggest that the “talent” is a function of something else–in this case the educational accouterments of coming from a wealthy family–the test prep, the good schools, family history of attending college, a culture encouraging education.

    In this case, Stanford’s move is commendable for those few students who don’t have those advantages but still manage to get in, but it really won’t make it more accessible for the vast majority of students who simply were never able to compete with that other 67%.

    And maybe that’s OK. But if so, we need to stop calling our society a meritocracy and fess up to the reality.

  8. It’s probably genetics.

    Smarter people have the ability to make more money and also have smarter kids.

  9. Great that stanford is doing this, but it is about time that other schools step up. Even a state school where I live will cost 15-20 k a year. College should not be prohibitive. It should be equally available to everyone that works hard enough to get in and being able to afford a school should not be brought into the decision of where one would go to school.

  10. StartingMoney says

    To give an idea, I went to a good (but not great, certainly not Stanford) private school in the Midwest and the average HH income of our ACCEPTED students was just under $100k/year 2-3 years ago. The average income of our MATRICULATING students was most likely higher, though I don’t have that info.

  11. Jonathon, the statistic is really not all that surprising considering the relationship between wealth and education. Can you guess what percentage of the population even has a Bachelor’s degree?

    It’s only about 25%. Then correlate that with a family earning over 100k – pretty easy to get to if both work.


  12. Brown U. just announced simiar program.

    I guess those schools have lots of money. It’s just some small changes for them. The more difficult problem is how to get the admission from those schools 🙂

  13. STLPlace: What makes you think this is being funded by endowments? Have you seen the rate of increase of college tuitions in the past 10 years?

    Schools are offering more and more breaks and scholarships, too. About 50% of students get some sort of financial break.

    In my mind it’s like the suckers that guy to Filene’s on one of the 10 weekends a year when there isn’t a sale. They pay full price for a variety of reasons. Everyone else gets a discount. It makes both sides feel good emotionally.


  14. why can’t colleges just lower the general costs of attending to begin with? It sounds so great that these colleges are now going to allow more middle class students to attend because of better grants, but hey, if they lowered the tuition to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem. Colleges really cost way too much to begin with.

  15. what surprised me most about this was that this was new. a family of 3 making $50,000 net, for instance, would have a hard time forking over even $10,000 – or whatever they had to pay before- for one child each year. and those making, say $100,000 net, aren’t going to think that $40,000 a year is chump change. i always figured that the cutoff for free rides to college was around $60k. In many areas, it’s amazing you can get by with 3 people living on 60k, even without crazy tuition.

    i think that more people apply to stanford from the upper classes because the upper classes care more. if your parents and friends’ parents never went to college, there isn’t so much of a impetus for you to go. the state school is probably fine. applying to an ivy league is definitely more ingrained in those societies who get on waitlists to get to the perfect preschool.

  16. Ted Valentine says

    I’m more surprised that you’re surprised that upper income families have an advantage.

    SHOCKING that kids that come from wealthy families have access to better education.

  17. Wow, this is wonderful, if it’s real. I think the kids who benefit from this program would much more apt to donate some of their future earnings back to their Alma Mater.

  18. While this is a start, there are still many issues with the financial aid process. In particular, the FAFSA is a terrible tool to estimate a student’s ability to pay. Also, as previously stated, the cost of attending many upper tier colleges has increased at a near constant 5% a year for the past 5 or 10 years. I agree with previous comments that it would also help if they simply didn’t raise prices so much – then financial aid wouldn’t be as necessary.

    On a side note, with the fed cutting rates significantly, the projected federal loans rates for the next year have decreased significantly…

    As of 02-25-2008, the current projections for the 2008-2009 variable interest rates are:

    * Stafford Loan (In-School Rate Projection): 3.91%
    * Stafford Loan (Repayment Rate Projection): 4.51%
    * PLUS Loan (Rate Projection): 5.31%

    Does anyone know whether this applies to loans taken out in past years, and if not, whether these can someone be refinanced?

  19. As a parent of 2 university age students in the UK I have strong views on this subject. For years now we have been subject to “means tested” benefits for all sorts of things in our society.

    Im my eyes giving money to some children because their parents are poor (a large percentage of which have probably claimend more than they have paid into the tax system for their entire life), while meanwhile denying such benfits to those children whose parents earn reasonable money, (but not well enough to employ full time lawyers to manipulate teh tax system and hide most of theur income in bermuda) is nothing short of facism against children of professional parents.

    Wgat also irks me is the way that the situation is manipulated and twisted at will to suit the government. When it suits them they lay everything at the feet of the children and say they are now young adults and should be able to manage thongs themselves, often giving parents less control over the situation, which is fine. But when it suits them as an excuse to be prejusiced against my child by not treating her like an equal citizen and not giving her the equal benefits that her less well kept classmates have had since they were 16 (they give all not so well off kids over 16 years old $60 a week to stay on at school in UK, which really pisses my daughter off becuase i refuse to spoil her by giving her $60 a week when I am trying to teach her to go out and earn)

    Personally I believe in EQUALITY and that means giving everyone the same. Not necessarily the same opportunity (because that is far too subjective and hard to quantify) but the same cash as a student which is incredibly easy to quantify.

    In a country where there are some families getting over $100,000 benefits a year while the rest of us have to pay tax out of our wages to give them their benefits, and now also to pay for their loans that they should never have taken out.. I am personally sick at being ignored and taken for granted.

    I would like to see a personal account for every single person in the country which monitors the amount of tax they have paid in and the amount of benefitd they have drawn out over their lifetime. That we will see who really is paying to keep the country afloat and maybe then people will understand why some of us spend all our time moaning while others approach life without a care in the world safe in the knowledge that sooner or later the state (and the rest of us mugs) will bail them out

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