We recently encountered this question at a presentation on exploring college, financial aid, and financing options. You might be surprised by the answer.
The Project on Student Debt website has a very interesting chart. This chart gives a great overview of all the schools that have made the pledge to reduce student debt. One of our presentation participants was correct when he noted that a Harvard education for some families is free–well, nearly free.
When a family applies for financial aid by filing the FAFSA one of the results is the EFC or estimated family contribution. The EFC consists of both parent and student contributions. These contributions are based on submitted parent financial data. In the case of Harvard for families that earn less than $60K, the parent portion of the EFC is eliminated, the student contribution (typically up to $1500/year) is still required. The resulting financial aid package from Harvard, however, will not only be free of a parent contribution, but also free of any student loans.
The only other school on this chart that eliminated the parent contribution was Yale. Many of the schools listed require parents and students each contribute their FAFSA-determined EFC and the schools debt management policies kicks-in after that.
Once at the site, click on the chart: cost after aid, by family income.