In-state tuition. For decades, it was the one advantage big state schools had that even the Ivy League couldn't match, in terms of recruiting the best and the brightest to their campuses. But these days, that's no longer necessarily the case. Starting this September, some students will find a Harvard degree cheaper than one from many public universities. Harvard officials sent shock waves through academia last December by detailing a new financial-aid policy that will charge families making up to $180,000 just 10% of their household income per year, substantially subsidizing the annual cost of more than $45,600 for all but its wealthiest students. The move was just the latest in what has amounted to a financial-aid bidding war in recent years among the U.S.'s élite universities.
Though Harvard's is the most generous to date, Princeton, Yale and Stanford have all launched similar plans to cap tuition contributions for students from low- and middle-income families. Indeed, students on financial aid at nearly every Ivy stand a good chance of graduating debt-free, thanks to loan-elimination programs introduced over the past five years. And other exclusive schools have followed their lead by replacing loans with grants and work-study aid. And several more schools are joining the no-loan club this fall. Even more schools have taken steps to reduce debt among their neediest students.