The dream of every college student, free tuition, may not be so far-fetched as it seems, at least in theory. According to the magazine Washington Monthly, Ivy League universities like Harvard and Yale have such large endowments that they could afford to make school free. While the idea of a free elite education is enough to get any college student cheering, there are reasons why it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
As a common practice, even the richest of universities do not have their million dollar endowments locked up in the bank gathering dust. According to Time, most universities do not even possess endowments; it is the large, famous universities that claim these holdings and in turn drive the conversation. The median endowment size for responding universities was $90 million, but after including necessary expenditures about $4.5 million would be left to spend. This would not be enough to get thousands of students through years of school.
Endowments are also frequently bound up in investments, which would make it impossible to grab the whole amount at once to use it in place of student tuition. Many schools, especially Harvard and Yale, saw their funds impacted by the recession’s impact on the investments that the universities had made previously.
Endowments are also comprised in large amount by alumni donations, which are given with a caveat that the funds be used for one particular purpose, be it financial aid, athletics or a brand new humanities building in the form of Stokes Hall where the Dust Bowl used to be.
While these reasons all have sound logic, the cost of obtaining a degree in the United States is only rising. This trend is making it less and less likely that those who do not come from wealthy backgrounds will be able to afford to attend a four-year college or university. Universities with large endowments typically lend the most financial aid to students in need. According to Washington Monthly, Boston College is considered one of these more generous givers.
According to their 2014 Elite Colleges Rankings, which rank “selective schools [that] give high-achieving non-wealthy students a break in price,” Boston College is 79th in the nation. According to their chart, Boston College has $128,039 in its endowment per student, a far cry from Harvard’s $1,240,548. The most affordable elite school according to their methodology is the University of Southern California at Los Angeles.
While students can dream of going to school for free, Boston College is not particularly well suited to give the experiment a try. Given Washington Monthly’s research, however, that’s not going to make any student and his or her savings account feel better when the spring semester tuition checks are cashed.