The Harvard Divinity School announced earlier this fall that, in an effort to improve financial support for low-income students, all donations to the Divinity School Fund in fiscal year 2020 will go toward strengthening the school’s financial aid program.
Additionally, the Divinity School restructured its financial aid program beginning this academic year to cover more of students’ tuition overall, said Timothy Whelsky, the Divinity School associate dean for Student Enrollment and Services. The minimum amount of need-based financial aid provided to students was increased from 50 to 75 percent of tuition.
To increase the amount of need-based aid available, the Divinity School has decided to decrease the amount of merit-based scholarships it offers annually.
“We’re offering more need-based packages, proportionally to merit packages, than there were previously,” Whelsky said.
Whereas merit-based aid used to make up approximately 20 percent of scholarships, it now makes up closer to 10 percent.
The revamped financial aid program has also allowed the Divinity School to provide living stipends to students on need-based financial aid; previously stipends were only provided in the merit-based program, Whelsky said.
The decision to restructure financial aid packages and to use all donations to improve the Divinity School’s financial aid program comes after more than two years of research and discussions.
“We had a town hall with students two years ago, where we discussed financial need amongst students,” Whelsky explained. “I think we got affirmation that we needed to take a new look at our programs and modernize them.”
At the town hall, Divinity School students — roughly 90 percent of whom receive some sort of scholarship — shared concerns about living costs and tuition. Living expenses are especially high in and near Cambridge, and the Divinity School estimates total living costs for the 2019-2020 academic year to be $24,146.
The Divinity School’s own analysis, Whelsky said, found that costs of living and attendance were increasing, and as a result the school decided to place more emphasis on need-based financial aid.
Whelsky added that he believes the Divinity School is distinct in offering both merit- and need-based scholarships, but has had to grapple with how to distribute the available funds between the two.
“We have a merit-based program because other schools have merit-based programs,” Whelsky said. “And we have a need-based program because we need to [in order] to meet the needs of our students.”
Whelsky said he hopes the restructuring will help decrease students’ reliance on federal loans.
“One of the hopes was that we would reduce the debt burden of some of our most vulnerable students,” he said.
—Staff writer Matteo N. Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @matteo_wong.