Financial Aid as Class Heuristic

I agree with a lot of what Anita Joseph has to say here, but I feel obliged to respond to this somewhat fallacious dispatching of an argument of mine:

The amazing thing is that Occupy Harvard accomplished all of this without the support of the student body…the most relevant and important cause in a generation was met with widespread scorn.

Why is this? In Slate [sic] Dylan R. Matthews ’12, who is also a Crimson editorial columnist, suggested that it is because Harvard is made up of the one percent. In the Harvard Political Review, Josh B. Lipson ’14 suggested it is because “Harvard is not the bastion of radical leftism that second-rate social commentators describe.” I disagree with these views. The Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid says that around sixty percent of the student body receives financial aid, while that figure is around fifty percent at UC Berkeley, a school that embraced the Occupy movement in a much greater way.

This would make sense as a retort if getting financial aid at Harvard indicated the same thing about one’s economic class as getting financial aid at Berkeley does. But it doesn’t. Harvard has much more generous financial aid than Berkeley. To use an example from an old column of mine, a family making $150,000 a year with $600,000 in assets (including a $500,000 house) gets almost $13,000 a year from Harvard. According to Berkeley’s financial aid calculator, that family gets no help from Berkeley financial aid.

As Joseph’s own links explain, Berkeley has only recently committed to providing financial aid to families making up to $140,000, whereas Harvard is talking about expanding aid to families making well over that. So if “people on financial aid at Harvard” includes families making upwards of $150,000, and “people on financial aid at Berkeley” excludes them, then it could simultaneously be the case that more people are on financial aid at Harvard and that Harvard has a more affluent student body overall.

I’d imagine this is the case, especially because, for in-state residents, attending Berkeley without financial aid is much, much more affordable than attending Harvard without financial aid. A year at Berkeley for a Californian costs $32,635 while a year at Harvard costs $56,000. So it makes sense, even if Berkeley attendees make less on average than Harvard attendees, that fewer would be on financial aid, as you don’t need to make as much to afford Berkeley without any assistance as you do to afford Harvard without any assistance.

Joseph’s larger point is that the “Organization Kid” mentality of Harvard students explains their resistance to Occupy, and I agree with that to some extent. But I think people consistently underestimate the extent to which being an Organization Kid is a result of being in and/or identifying with a certain economic class, and thus leads one to want to advance that class’s interests. Harvard students are rich, so they look out for other rich people.

One thought on “Financial Aid as Class Heuristic

  1. You all miss the broader point, which is that, if you’re at Harvard, you’ve made it already, regardless of what kind of background you come from. The people huddled behind Out of Town News – the very pregnant lady who sat on the ground there until a few months ago, the guys with the dogs who occasionally venture downstairs to scare everyone waiting for the red line, that one fella drumming on the upside-down bucket next to the elevator that smells like piss – they wonder why the citizens of paradise are upset, demanding one-dollar-an-hour raises for cashiers and lab techs and more-generous financial aid packages for families making $150,000 dollars a year. If you want to do something about inequality, do something about this: Or at least do something about this:

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