PRESIDEN T’S COL U M N by John Hennessy
An Unwavering Commitment to Access
Financial aid, limiting debt are crucial for keeping college a;ordable.
Student loan debt reached $1 trillion last year. College costs
continue to increase faster than incomes, while state government support for higher education is decreasing. Although
income and employment opportunities are greater for college
degree holders, many families believe they are being priced
out of the market.
But college costs and debt vary significantly among institutions and sectors. Due to decreasing state support, public universities have had to increase tuition, with little means to o;-set increases with student aid. Although they remain lower in
cost than many private institutions, the rapid
increases in cost of attendance are worrisome. Many private institutions with
smaller endowments find themselves in
a similar dilemma.
The situation is different at Stanford. Sustaining the excellence of the
As a result of our commitment,
the cost of attending Stanford has
effectively gone down in recent
years. For example, over the past six
years, net tuition (tuition minus all
financial aid) has decreased and is
now at its 1994 level (adjusted for inflation). Net total cost of attendance—
tuition, room, board and fees minus all
aid—is at 1999 levels after inflation.
This is possible because our financial
aid program, enhanced in the mid-2000s,
increases in cost of attendance are worri- some. Many private institutions with smaller endowments find themselves in a similar dilemma. The situation is different at Stan- d n t n s r d d a e s - r e i h a t c i tn n et t i m u4 4 l e o t o e c m is one of the strongest in the country. In s one of the strongest in the country. In 1991-92, Stanford awarded need-based aid to 40 percent of our undergraduates, with an average amount of a little over $10,000 each. In 2011-12, we awarded aid to slightly more than half of our under- graduates, averaging more than $36,000 each.
Key to our changes was a simplified model for lower- and
middle-income families: Stanford students whose family
income is below $100,000 pay no tuition; parents with income
below $60,000 pay neither tuition nor room and board. Students are expected to contribute a portion of earnings from
summer and work-study jobs, but at a level low enough that
they can do so without borrowing.
As a result, Stanford students incur far less debt: Of the students earning undergraduate degrees in 2011-12, 75 percent
graduated debt-free. The average amount for the 25 percent with
debt was $18,833 (less than the average for the 45 percent who
carried debt in 2002, after inflation). Nationwide, 72 percent of
Between 2008 and 2012, when
average costs for an undergraduate
increased by 17 percent, our need-
based aid increased by 68. 5 percent.
students at private universities, 62 percent at public institutions
and fully 96 percent at for-profit colleges graduate with debt,
according to a 2007-08 study. Debt levels have risen further in
recent years. In 2011 about two-thirds of all college students
graduated with debt, and each had an average debt of $26,500.
Sustaining our program through the global economic
downturn was essential, as applications for financial aid
surged and the endowment dropped. Between 2008 and 2012,
when average costs for an undergraduate increased by 17 percent, our need-based aid increased by 68. 5 percent.
The Stanford Fund for Undergraduate Education has been
invaluable. In 2008, it made up 7 percent of the University’s
need-based aid. By 2012, its contribution had more than doubled
to 15 percent. Last year, The Stanford Fund provided support to
more than 1,200 undergraduates. Fortunately, Stanford—with
the support of our alumni and friends—can minimize our students’ debt burden, but I am concerned about the impact on students across our country.
When Jane and Leland Stanford established our University, they expressed a wish that Stanford would remain accessible to the best students irrespective of personal financial
circumstances. I think they would be very pleased with how
we have remained committed to that vision. ■