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HKS Students Petition for Need-Based Fee Waivers and Emergency Financial Aid

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Harvard Kennedy School students advocated for need-based application fee waivers and emergency funds for students with unexpected expenses in a letter to the school’s dean, Douglas W. Elmendorf, Wednesday.

The letter, authored by the First-Generation and Low-Income Caucus, was endorsed by the Kennedy School Student Government, as well as 14 student affinity groups. HKS, which requires its applicants to pay a $100 application fee, is the only Harvard school aside from the Extension School that does not provide a fee waiver for financial need.

“If HKS truly cares about diversifying its class, the very least it can do is implement a clear, streamlined process for getting fee waivers, if not waiving them for low-income and FLI students altogether as other universities have done,” the letter reads.

HKS spokesperson James F. Smith confirmed in an email that Elmendorf received the letter.

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“He looks forward to meeting with the students who raised these issues,” Smith wrote.

FLI Caucus co-president Viet A. Nguyen said in an interview that the letter presents proposals that would be “really easy, quick wins” that the school can implement to improve the diversity of the student body and bolster the support HKS students receive.

Nguyen added that when he applied to HKS, his request for an application fee waiver was denied — an experience he said is common among FGLI students at HKS.

“There are so many other students who probably didn’t even apply because of the fee application,” he said.

The letter also outlines the FLI Caucus’ plan to reach out to program managers of emergency student funds at other Harvard schools — including Harvard College, Harvard Medical School, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — to understand the cost of the funds and how they disperse money.

The College offers a Beneficiary Aid Program that provides additional assistance to financial aid recipients who face emergency medical or dental costs during the term that constitute “extreme financial hardship.”

The letter advocates for the creation of a “hardship fund” for HKS students.

“The expense of being at the Kennedy School [is] high and for many low-income students here, we are one emergency away from dropping out,” the letter reads.

Nguyen also criticized HKS’ merit-based aid system rather than awarding assistance solely based on financial need.

“Oftentimes, when we bring up this issue, we get stonewalled with ‘We can’t afford it,’ ‘There’s not enough money,’” he said. “We just want to know: We don’t have enough money now — how much money do we need, so that we can begin fundraising and thinking about long-term goals.”

Quint Forgey, vice president of communications, technology, and operations for the Kennedy School Student Government, said the student government is “proud” to co-sponsor the letter to the Dean.

“We reviewed its priorities and they represent the type of practical, actionable change the KSSG always hopes for on campus,” he said. “We are all confident that its proposals will affect the lives of HKS students in immediate and actionable ways, and we’re going to stand by the FLI Caucus as a lobbyist on behalf of these comments as policy changes to the HKS administration.”

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at asher.montgomery@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @asherjmont.

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