Columbia Is Final Ivy League to Offer Free College

Joining its Ivy League brothers, Columbia University has announced its new financial aid plan starting in the 2008-2009 academic year which includes the Free College program I've discussed several times over the past few days.

Columbia currently leads the Ivy Leagues in the proportion of its students who receive Pell grants at roughly 15%. With the new changes, which increased its financial aid budget by 17%, Columbia University has become even more generous with aid. Already $260 million of the sought $440 million for the undergraduate financial aid endowment has been raised.

According to Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas B. Dirks, "[Columbia's] new financial aid policies reflect a more realistic view of the challenges that lower- and middle-income families face in paying for college." The changes include four main areas:

  • Students from families earning less than $60,000 a year will have no financial obligation for tuition, room, board, or other college fees.
  • Students from families earning between $60,000 and $100,000 a year will see a significant reduction in the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
  • All students, regardless of income, will have all loans replaced with University grants.
  • All aid recipients may receive exemptions work-study expectations if they participate in community service or accept unpaid research or internship opportunities. Students studying abroad will have work-study expectations replaced with grants.

All in all, Columbia's new financial aid program is phenomenal. With now every one of the Ivy League universities offering free college programs for students of low-income families, and also programs of substantially reduced or subsidized tuition for all students, access to education is more open than ever. I look forward to these philosophies trickling down to other colleges, as has already happened with MIT, Stanford, Washington, and others.

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