We normally don’t link to items that lack a specific Eph-mention, but this New York Times article on financial aid policies is probably relevant to Williams.

Aiming to get more low-income students to enroll, Harvard will stop asking parents who earn less than $40,000 to make any contribution toward the cost of their children’s education. Harvard will also reduce the amount it seeks from parents with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.

As Mark Taylor would be quick to point out, the interesting part about this story is not what is said, it is what is unsaid. Where have the non-enrolling students that Harvard admitted in the past been going? Probably to other schools that offered better financial aid packages. This competition for students has increased significantly since the cartel-like pricing of elite colleges was ended in the late 1980’s.

I would wager that at least a few of the students that were accepted at Harvard but choose Williams instead did so because of the Tyng and Williams Opportunity Scholarships.

Only 7 percent of Harvard undergraduates are from families with earnings in the lowest quarter of American household incomes, and 16 percent are from the bottom half. Nearly three-quarters are from families with earnings in the top quarter.

Dr. Summers said that the numbers at most other selective private colleges were similar.

No doubt the numbers are similar at Williams. What I always found surprising at Williams was not that the College was so generous that half the students are on financial aid, but that half the students come from families that are so rich that they don’t need financial aid.

However you may feel about this state of affairs, economic diversity it is not.

This year, Harvard graduates will have an average debt of $8,800, compared with $14,600 in 1998.

Has the trend been the same at Williams? Probably. Of course, I would rather know the median than the average, and it is unclear whether this refers to all Harvard graduates or just those with debt. But, unless you believe that Harvard has been accepting much richer students in the past few years, there is a significant transfer of wealth going on from Harvard’s endowment to its students.

All of this suggests to me that elite education in the US, whatever may be happening to the sticker price, will be getting cheaper and cheaper for those students smart enough to qualify for it. That has certainly been happening for the last 15 years and there seems no reason why it will stop anytime soon. The more that colleges — throughout the academic pecking order — compete for smart students (especially through the use of merit scholarships), the less expensive college will become.

So, assuming that my daughters are smart enough to get into Williams in a decade or so [Assuming that they take after their mother, you mean. — ed Right!], I might not need the $400,000 or so that the total price tag will be by then. They’ll just need to apply for (and get!) a merit scholarship from a lesser ranked school, and then convince Williams to match it.

Anyway, that’s this months rationalization for not putting money in the 529 fund . . .

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