The vast riches of schools like Stanford and Harvard have created dilemmas about how their endowments should be directed. One slate of candidates for Harvard's board of overseers is calling for the school to spend some of its $37.6 billion endowment to cover tuition for all students. Lawmakers have also mulled requiring colleges with at least $1 billion in their endowments to spend at least one-quarter of the endowment's income on financial aid.
That might provide some relief to some students aiming to climb the economic ladder, but the bigger issue may be the fact that many less competitive colleges -- which enroll a greater share of low- and middle-income students -- are boosting tuition to offset cuts in state spending. More than three-quarters of tuition hikes at public universities from 2001 to 2011 were due to declining state appropriations, the think tank Demos found last year.