Elite universities in the United States are putting money up front to encourage more students from less advantaged backgrounds to enrol as undergraduates.
They have recognised that encouraging diversity - and especially the inclusion of ethnic minorities - is more than the repetition of a mantra that an Ivy League education is not just for the children of the rich.
But with annual tuition at top schools running at $30,000 (£20,700), money has been the critical stumbling block for outreach initiatives in deprived inner-city areas. This is despite the availability of federal grants, scholarships, loans and regulated campus work-study programmes.
Yale University is digging deep into its $10.7 billion endowment to reduce the costs of tuition and accommodation for students from middle and low-income backgrounds.
It is among 28 leading private colleges and universities - including Columbia, Cornell and Stanford - that have agreed to use a common set of standards when determining students' financial aid needs.
The new guidelines will reduce the amount of parental contributions in most cases and increase the amount of aid provided by the institutions.
In Yale's case, a programme has been introduced to reduce the tuition costs for low and middle-income families by $13,780 over four years at an estimated cost of $6.3 million.
President Richard C. Levin said: "Yale has long recognised the importance of offering educational opportunities to outstanding students without regard for their ability to pay.
"By committing themselves to needs-blind admissions and needs-based aidI Yale and the other participating institutions are ensuring that future generations of scholars will continue to have access to high-quality higher education regardless of their financial circumstances."
At Princeton University, which is not part of the alliance, an aid policy introduced four years ago was specifically designed to encourage less well-off families.
In the latest refinement in January 2001, loans were eliminated for students from families with an annual income of less that $40,000 and reliance on loans reduced for families with incomes up to $66,000.
"We want to ensure that no student admitted to Princeton feels that he or she cannot attend because it would present a financial hardship," said Harold Shapiro, then Princeton president.
Some 40 schools and universities have followed Princeton's lead, including Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania.
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