Stanford makes tuition free for families earning less than $125,000 per year

Students walk across the campus of Columbia University in Ne










Stanford University is making it easier for some of its students to pay for college with a significant expansion of its financial aid program.

Starting next year, tuition will be free for any Stanford student whose family earn less than $125,000 per year, a more lenient standard than its previous $100,000 cut-off. Those whose family makes below $65,000 per year will also have free room and board.

According to the announcement, students will still be expected to contribute $5,000 per year towards college costs from summer earnings or part-time work during the school year, but there’s no rule that parents can’t pay for these costs instead.

Families must also have “typical assets” in order to qualify, meaning that their net worth — excluding retirement accounts — cannot exceed $300,000.

The move comes just months after the Palo Alto, California university raised its tuition by 3.5%, bringing the total annual cost for undergraduates to $60,427 including room and board.

The university claims that 77% of its students graduate with no student debt, and families with incomes of up to $225,000 can receive financial assistance.

Of course, not every university has the largesse to offer such a generous package. With an endowment of around $21 billion, Stanford has deeper pockets than almost any college in the country.

Other institutions with similarly large endowments offer comparable plans. Princeton gives free tuition to students with family incomes below $120,000, and Yale and Harvard offer the same deal for household incomes of $65,000 or less.

This announcement comes on the heels of information surfacing that Ivy League college enrolments are declining. Gaining entry into an Ivy League school is getting tougher every year. The prestigious group of eight colleges and universities recently made their admissions decisions, and all but one decreased their already low acceptance rates.

Harvard University was the most selective of the bunch, accepting a record-low 5.8% of its 33,531 applicants. It was followed by Yale University, which admitted 6.72% of its record-high 29,610 applicants, and Columbia University, which dropped its acceptance rate from 7.4% last year to 6.89% this year.

Even more selective than the Ivy schools was Stanford University, which has developed a reputation for minting technology entrepreneurs. The Palo Alto, Calif., university accepted a record-low 5.69% of its 38,828 applicants this year, down from a 6.6% admit rate last year.

Admission to other coveted universities was just as hard to come by. The University of Chicago accepted 8.8% of the record 30,369 applications it received. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just 8.2% of a record-high 18,989 applicants were accepted — a new low for the school. “We’re becoming more popular — that’s good, I suppose,” says Stu Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions. He says the school had to be particularly rigorous this year because last year so many of their admits chose to enroll that they were unable to accept any wait-listed students.

For many of these schools the ever lower acceptance rates are the result of bulging application pools. According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the number of high school graduates in the U.S. steadily increased for 15 years before peaking at 3.4 million graduates in 2010–11. But there are still some 3.2 million students graduating each year, and they’re applying to colleges alongside high school seniors from around the world. And all those students are applying to more colleges than ever, thanks in large part to the Common App, a single application and essay that is accepted at 488 schools, including the vast majority of selective schools. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 79% of students in 2011 applied to three or more colleges, up from 67% in 2000. 

As Vox points out, other colleges and universities may not be able to follow suit financially, but the simplicity of the program could set an example. Research suggests that notifying prospective students whether or not they will receive financial aid earlier may make them more likely to attend.

What do you think of this move? Should Universities lower fees?

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