Harvard is one step closer to offering free tuition

Are Ivy League Colleges Worth It?
Are Ivy League Colleges Worth It?

Harvard alumnus Ron Unz — ex-publisher of The American Conservative — received some good news on Wednesday. Harvard University sent word that he had qualified to be a candidate for the Board of Overseers.

"Given those very hectic and intense couple of weeks, this is a huge relief," Unz told Business Insider in an email.

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The group had the hurdle of collecting more than 200 handwritten signatures from Harvard alumni and submitting them to the Board of Overseers before the group would be allowed on the ballot.

Unz is running with four other alums — including Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader — on a ticket to eliminate undergraduate tuition.

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The group argues that eliminating tuition will make the school more diverse, as low-income (predominantly minority students) will be more drawn to a school that's free.

Unz says to look no further than to Harvard's massive endowment as the source of free tuition for students.

The school's endowment was $37.6 billion at the end of last year, making it the largest university endowment in the world. For the 2015-2016 school year, Harvard College reports 6,700 students and a tuition price of $57,200.

That equates to about $383 million in tuition money for the school year, a sum that isn't so hefty when you consider how much the school makes from its endowment. Harvard's investment income on its endowment for 2015 was $1.2 billion.

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Critics assert a large endowment doesn't necessarily enable the college to offer free tuition, though. The endowment is not like "one big bank account" that can be drawn from for any purpose, Robert Reischauer, an economist and former senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, argued in The New York Times.

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"I hardly think that spending such a tiny slice of Harvard's investment income on education is so unreasonable, and I find it difficult to believe that undisclosed restrictions on the university's financial holdings would legally prohibit this," Unz hit back, in a letter in The Times.

For now, the fight for free tuition at Harvard by "Free Harvard, Fair Harvard" will continue. Overseers elections will take place this spring.

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