Stanford Eliminates Tuition For 85% Of American Students

This is surprising and encouraging news. Stanford University has done away with tuition for any student whose family makes less than US $100,000 a year. According to Wikipedia, that’s about 85% of all American households. From the article:

The university is making the change in the wake of published reports last month that its endowment had grown almost 22 percent last year, to $17.1 billion. That sum had begun to attract attention from lawmakers who want wealthy institutions to do more to reduce tuition costs.

$17 billion. Wow. The American college system is different from Canada’s in this respect. Giving to your alma mater seems far more common south of the border. Is that accurate, do you think?

Stanford is also getting rid of room and board costs for students whose families earn less than US $60,000. This seems like a fantastic, radical move, considering a year’s tuition is currently about US $35,000 a year. Incidentally, that figure still buys you tuition and room and board for four years at Canada’s top comprehensive university (PDF).

I expect this will make the application process more meritocratic, and seriously reduce the crippling debt that so many students graduate with. Hopefully other American schools will follow suit.


  1. Wow, this is certainly one of the most remarkable acts of socially responsible marketing / business logic I’ve ever seen.

    It’s also a shame I’m not 19 anymore and about to go to university 🙂

  2. That’s very cool! I’d be interested to know how many of their current students come from families who make less than $100,000/yr and how many students will come from this group in future years.

    As for giving to your university, $17B does sound pretty huge to me. I worked for a summer in the McMaster University alumni office and we were talking about developing an endowment in the millions, not billions. Granted, Mac is smaller than Stanford, but if memory serves me, at the time U of T had a $1 billion endowment (although maybe this has changed in the last 7 years….)

  3. I could be way off the mark here, but given the elitism of a school like Stanford, I’d imagine that very few students come from families who make less than $100,000 a year.

  4. Wow, I wish they’d had something like that in Canada when I wanted to go to university. I wasn’t able to get student loans because my working class school didn’t understand how to coach students through the system of qualifying for a loan. They provided really poor information and most of us couldn’t qualify for loans. I ended up working my way through, while people from more affluent families got subsidies, grants and loans. Many of my counterparts didn’t even go to university, because they didn’t think they could get a loan and they didn’t think they could earn enough for school.

  5. Andrea: It wasn’t only your working-class school. I went to a rich kid’s high school in West VAn, and don’t remember getting any loan-related information (possibly for the opposite reason).

    I remember one assembly in grade 12 where one of the few non-university bound kids complained that there wasn’t enough information available to him.

    Surely this is a problem that’s been solved by the Internet? Any high school student–rich or poor–could find the info they need online now.

  6. I went to a community college, and was astounded that no-one, absolutely and utterly no-one got any kind of help in applying for the grants and scholarships that reduced my tuition by more than 60 percent.

    Even when you were running the exhaustive application paperwork through the system, no-one volunteered the information that “Hey–you can get this damn near free!” Granted, the office was understaffed.

    Internet research was of precious little help. As with all e-search, you have to know what you’re looking for. Without my folks’ help I would never have known to look for the right terms and applications. As it was, I had to traipse into the loans office on campus a number of times to clear up paperwork that no-one seemed to fully understand.

    One single-parent-of-two I know graduated from the same program $40,000 in the hole, in part due to child care expenses. She could have reduced that debt to 16,000 had she been told that she had to apply for a particular type of student financial assistance before joining the program.

    Stanford’s generosity is nice, but realistically, how many poor kids are applying to go there anyway? Stats suggest that poor kids live in poor neighborhoods, where the poorer high schools are often located. People who graduate poor high schools often don’t go to uni at all, let alone Stanford.

    How about this for our home and native land: From now on the Canadian government pays for one year of tuition and books, with a small living stipend, for every high-school graduate, at whatever school they qualify to enter.

    In the second, third, and fourth years they pay for the top 50 percent of each class.

    At the end, an eighth of all Canadian students have a free bachelor’s degree. Those who flunk out at the first hurdle will have the opportunity to pay for it, just as we do now, and may be able to rejoin the top fifty percent and get later years comped.

    Oh, and the government assumes full responsibility for student loans, reclaiming them with increased tax rates where necessary.

    It’s better than the byzantine debt-for-profit system students are saddled with now.

  7. Metro: First, I want to challenge two of your points.

    * I just did a search for “UVic student loans” and found this helpful page as the first result. You’ll find similar results for UBC and SFU. Is knowing to search for “[school] student loans” too high a requirement for the smarter-than-average high school student?

    * “Stats suggest that poor kids live in poor neighborhoods, where the poorer high schools are often located. People who graduate poor high schools often don’t go to uni at all, let alone Stanford.” This is radically over-stating the case. I’d like to see stats that support this allegation.

    Because here are the stats I found, from Stats Canada. These are percentages of students who attended university by income group (stats from 2001–don’t know how things have changed since then):

    Bottom income quartile: 24%
    2nd income quartile: 24%
    3rd income quartile: 38%
    Top income quartile: 46%

    So, that means that about half the number of the nation’s poorest kids went to university than the richest kids. That’s not fair, but it’s a lot more than none at all.

    I like your idea. I’d love for Canada to have free post-secondary education like much of Europe. I just need to see how much it would cost, and what programs you’d cut to fund it.

  8. I think what Stanford done is great. Yes it is an “elite” school and the cost in the past has discouraged otherwise qualified applicants who just simply couldn’t afford to go there. Why bother applying if you can’t afford the tuition? I think it is a step in the right direction and represents good intentions from Stanford to offer qualified applicants from all economic situations an opportunity to receive a top education. Comments such as Michael Kwan’s are fair but I think Stanford has taken a step to level the playing field and has the opportunity to develop a more diverse student body. Like Beth, I’m interested to see if the number of students from lower-income situations increases or if Stanford will just find reasons to accept students from mostly the larger income brackets. I’d like to think that students will be accepted based on merit.

  9. Just another log on the fire – in the US, many graduate students at good universities don’t pay tuition. That concept doesn’t exist in Canada as far as I’m aware. Most grad students in Canada are forced to spend a lot of their time being teaching assistants to help pay the bills. In the US, alot of the time you ride for free and can focus on your research.

  10. Thanks Darren, for the figures I was too lazy to look up. But they seem to me to prove my point. In Canada, only a quarter of the bottom-income kids go to university. The US figure is 15 percent.

    (Actually, I’m fascinated to see that even the top-income kids are only attending at a rate of 50% or so.)

    As to the UVic web page: while there is a single sentence about “non-repayable grants,” in my (admittedly not exhaustive) search of that page I saw nothing about how to apply for a grant. And the only other page in the “Loans and Grants” category was devoted to helping you get in touch with your friendly banker.

  11. Metro: Wasn’t your point this?

    “Stats suggest that poor kids live in poor neighborhoods, where the poorer high schools are often located. People who graduate poor high schools often don’t go to uni at all, let alone Stanford.”

    If your point wasn’t that “no poor kids go to university”, what was it?

    I wanted to see how it looked, so I charted that data. It’s too bad I can’t get more granular data, but that reflects the range of attendance from the poorest kids to the richest.

    Yeah, on closer investigation, that UVic page isn’t great. I think the UBC and SFU ones are better.

    My larger point is that if a BC high school graduate wonders “what loans, grants and bursaries are out there for me?”, the answer is easily found.

  12. Seems like most college students will still be working their way through school doing side jobs ect…
    A great example of this can be found at

    Amazing, but most will still end up with debt that makes previous generations look like pikers. With housing prices crumbling will we see tuition rates right behind? To bad students can’t just “walk away” from student debt like homeowners fleeing the mortgage.

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