Making MIT Affordable

Brendon Puffer, Data Analyst, Student Financial Services

In his May 24th New York Times article celebrating the tenure of Amherst College president Anthony Marx, David Leonhardt looked at some of the changes in financial aid during Marx’s time at Amherst. One of the themes of the article focuses on meritocracy. At MIT, meritocracy is one of our most important core principles. MIT’s need-blind admissions policy enables us to admit the best and brightest students regardless of their financial situation. Combined with our policy to award all aid based on demonstrated need and to meet each student’s full need, the Institute ensures both access and affordability.

Leonhardt’s article touches on how much progress has been made in the last eight years to make college more financially accessible to families from the lower half of the income distribution. He highlighted the fact that in 2003, the University of Michigan had “more entering freshmen from families earning at least $200,000 per year than came from the entire bottom half of the income distribution. At some private colleges, the numbers were even more extreme.” By comparison, in 2003, 61% of MIT undergraduates already came from households earning less than $200,000 and by 2010, the number had risen to 73%. This includes an increase in the number of students from lower-income families, as identified by those students who qualify to receive a federal Pell grant. The number increased from roughly 13% in 2003 to 19% in 2010.

While we have admitted more students who require more financial assistance, we have concurrently focused on increased affordability. Between 2003 and 2010, the total cost of education at MIT increased by 33%. At the same time, the percentage of undergraduates receiving a MIT scholarship went from 53% to 62% and the average scholarship increased by 68%. Because the rate of scholarship increases has outpaced the rate of cost increases, MIT has been able to cover more of the cost for a larger number of the undergraduates. As a result of MIT’s efforts to devote more resources to financial aid, the average debt at graduation among those who borrowed has dropped from $20,919 to $15,228 over the last eight years. Additionally, the number of borrowers dropped from 692 in 2003 to 390 in 2010.

Average MIT Scholarship By Family Income (table)

Thanks to the need-blind admissions policy and the increased emphasis on financial aid, MIT is able to attract a very diverse population while perpetuating the educational excellence for which it is known worldwide. Meritocracy remains a cornerstone of MIT undergraduate education.