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Yard Sale

Colleges with big endowments face calls to scrap tuition payments

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ON his deathbed in 1638, John Harvard bequeathed half of his estate, about £800 and his library of some 400 books to a new college in present-day Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard’s founders decided to name their new university for its first big benefactor. About 370 years ago the first Harvard scholarship to help “some poore scholler” was set up thanks to £100 donated by Ann Radcliffe. The university continues to be the beneficiary of generous donors. Last year, John Paulson, a hedge-fund investor, donated $400m to Harvard’s engineering school, its largest gift ever. Harvard has an endowment of $36 billion, the largest in the country. Last year it raised more than $1 billion. Some of its alumni think this ought to be sufficient to scrap tuition fees.

Among them are Ralph Nader, a veteran political activist, and Ron Unz, author of a number of searing articles on American meritocracy. Both are hoping to win election to the university’s board of overseers, from which perch they will push to make Harvard free for all students to attend, and also pressure its admissions office to disclose data on how it chooses which students to admit. They hope that other well-endowed Ivies would then be shamed into doing the same.

America’s universities raised a record $40.3 billion last year, according to the Council for Aid to Education. Harvard’s endowment is made up of 13,000 funds and is its largest source of revenue by far. Endowments are not usually used to lower tuition fees, but they can be used to provide scholarships and financial aid to students who cannot afford to pay (70% of students at Harvard get some assistance with fees and living costs).

• Category: College Admissions & Tuition • Tags: The Economist