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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 26, 2024

It’s Tufts’ turn to catch up; Tufts should offer students more than loans

College is expensive — Tufts can follow the lead of other colleges to make an education more accessible.

Bendetson Hall, the location of the Tufts Office of Undergraduate Admissions, is pictured on March 29, 2022.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article failed to note that Tufts offers guides for students seeking financial aid. Tufts offers several resources to students seeking aid, including brochures on financial aid and family financing, a guide to understanding award letters and information on loans.

Tufts University is an expensive place to get your college degree — the fifth most expensive in the U.S. as of August 2022. Tuition is set at just over $66,000. After including the fees and expenses of being a student here, the estimated cost of attendance is a little over $88,000, becoming more than $90,000 for students in their third and following years.

Tufts offers its students financial aid and states that in “making education affordable for exceptional students from all backgrounds, Tufts meets 100% of demonstrated need for all admitted undergraduates. Tufts’ aid includes grants and loans, federal grants and loans and work-study awards.

Student debt is highly impactful in the long term because of how hard it is to pay down. Due to high interest rates, debt builds faster than people can pay it off, disproportionately impacting people of color. Tufts offers loans as part of financial aid decisions for students from families making over $60,000 per year but typically provides aid without loans for those making less.

Similarly costly universities, like Washington University in St. Louis, are doing more for all families. With an estimated cost of about $88,000, WashU is becoming a “no-loans” school in fall 2024. WashU is already “need-blind,” meaning the university does not consider your ability to pay into their admission decision, and covers the costs of undergraduate education for families in Missouri and southern Illinois making less than $75,000, as part of theWashU Pledge. Furthermore, students and prospective applicants have access to a simple and direct Financial Aid Dictionary to define elements of the process — something Tufts lacks. Tufts should combine the informational resources it currently offers into one website or guide.

Nearby, Brown University’sBrown Promise covers tuition for families making less than $125,000 per year. Brown also does not consider home equity in a family’s primary home, meaning the university doesn’t expect families to use their home as a resource to pay for college. 

Families making less than $85,000 aren’t expected to contribute at Harvard University, a policy impacting roughly 24% of their families. Harvard publishes an estimate of how much families in different income ranges will be expected to contribute. Most MIT students from families making less than $140,000 attend tuition-free. Like WashU, Brown, Harvard and MIT are all need-blind.

The cost and affordability of a college is key. It’s a filter for who goes to Tufts more than an information session at a high school or visiting program can be. It decides who applies, who gets in (since Tufts isn’t need-blind) and who decides to enroll. College is expensive, and Tufts has a responsibility to make it as affordable as possible. There’s a reason Tufts is in 391st place of 400 colleges on the Wall Street Journal’s ranking of economic mobility.

Sunil Kumar, Tufts’ new president, mentioned “increasing access to Tufts as one of his priorities, and it’s well past time to make good on those goals. Tufts should catch up by adopting the practices other colleges have already successfully implemented.

Tufts should start by helping students understand what’s being offered to them. Tufts should significantly simplify the process and make clear what each of the terms in the process and award letters means. Students and families have questions: Can they refuse a loan? What kinds of loans do they have? How do they go about financing through PLUS loans or private lenders? How do loan options change if a PLUS loan isn’t approved?

Next, loans should not be presented as financial aid. Loans are currently high interest at 5.5% for federal loans this fiscal year. The interest on subsidized federal loans is paid for by the U.S. Department of Education while you’re in college, but it still is debt that’s difficult to pay after you graduate. Loans can be detrimental to students’ credit scores because of the new accounts added to credit reports each semester, and penalties for late payments are more likely to impact Black and brown people. Tufts should make the impacts and details of loans clear.

Finally, President Kumar recently told the Daily that Tufts cares about “how well we are doing as a driver of our students’ social mobility.” Improving financial aid is the best way of making progress to improve social mobility and making Tufts more accessible to a wider group of students. Tufts should join other colleges by making its own promise, like the many nearby and similar colleges have. The university should take on a need-blind policy, remove loans from financial aid, publish a guide to Tufts aid and expected aid and set an income level where families, from Massachusetts and eventually beyond, falling below it don’t pay anything — all as soon as possible.