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Starting Up College

We applaud Harvard's new aid initiative for low-income students

UPDATED: March 31, 2016, 4:34 p.m.

The transition from high school to college is a well-known challenge, often more difficult for students from low-income backgrounds. The costs of moving into a dorm room and purchasing essentials can quickly amount to a significant financial burden.

A recent financial aid initiative will seek to allay these costs, offering a $2,000 “start-up” grant to every Class of 2020 student whose family earns less than $65,000 per year. The $1,000 received at the start of each semester freshman year is meant to help covers the many costs that come alongside tuition, room, and board. We are excited by this change and see it as an innovative way to make students from low-income families feel more comfortable as they adjust to campus.

The stipend is intended to help cover the costs of essentials such as bedding, toiletries, stationery, and notebooks. It will also help many students transition into college socially by giving them spending money to use alongside their peers.

This financial aid initiative is only the tip of the iceberg. The obstacles facing low-income students are not purely financial. Some of the other challenges of acclimating to college life at large include interacting with professors, attending office hours, and keeping up academically. Students from strong high schools are typically much better prepared for this sort of a learning environment. We believe that each and every student admitted to Harvard should be given the resources to succeed upon arriving here. That’s why efforts like the implementation of designated first-generation tutors as Mather House piloted this year are so important.

We remain firm in our belief that bridge programs would also help students navigate the transition from high school to college with greater ease. For example, the Freshman Enrichment Program, which was chosen as the recipient of the Undergraduate Council’s “Harvard Project” grant last April, is targeted at helping low-income and first-generation students transition to life at the College. Such student-run programs are critical and should be expanded to mirror offerings at other universities which often take place before classes start in the fall.

As Harvard searches for ways to support students on financial aid, it must also listen to concerns about the academic resources that it already provides. Last spring, a Crimson news piece highlighted the struggles low-income students face in purchasing textbooks. In some cases, the cost of course materials spurred students to take different classes with less expensive materials. The College should include the cost of course materials in tuition so that students do not face these sort of tradeoffs. Such academic essentials are costs that ought to be covered by the College when students are unable to do so themselves.

We see the new “start up” grant as just that: a start. We hope the administration will use this foundation to continue building an inclusive atmosphere for low-income students.

This editorial has been changed to reflect the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION: March 31

This editorial has been updated to clarify the distinction between the Freshman Enrichment Program and the First-Year Enrichment Program. The Freshman Enrichment Program is a student-run initiative that won UC funding last year, but the First-Year Enrichment Program has been run by the Freshman Dean's Office and the Advising Programs Office for the last four years.

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