Over the last couple of years, we've heard about some big universities like Harvard offering really significant financial aid packages to almost all students from low- and moderate-income families.

But I've generally reacted to such announcements with a stifled yawn. If you endowment is $36.9 billion, as Harvard's was on June 30 of last year, you can afford to be generous. (Harvard's investment portfolio has since lost between $8 billion and $18 billion, according to this article in the January 27, 2009, edition of Slate magazine's Big Money.) But theological schools don't have that kind of money to start with.

In Trust's Writer Workshop member Matt Forster recently tipped me off to a much less wealthy university that seems to be as generous as Harvard -- Oakland University in Michigan. According to a Detroit Free Press article (which you can read here), Oakland University will cover the difference between a student's "Expected Family Contribution" (according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the university's tuition costs.

Here's what the Free Press says:Oakland University's logo promoting its financial aid package

But this year, OU has upped the amount of money it will provide for undergraduate scholarships and grants from the general fund by $1.8 million to $10.2 million -- specifically setting aside $1.4 million for 2009 freshmen whose financial need exceeds full-time tuition bills.

For those students, expected to be about one in four freshmen, OU plans to cover the difference in costs between the tuition bill and the sum of the EFC and any other free aid, such as private scholarships or state and federal grants and scholarships.

I don't know how Oakland University is affording this. And I don't know if any theological schools could afford to be so generous. But it's a good idea to recognize a trend when you see one.

Student debt has been on my mind, because Matt has written an article about theological student debt that will appear in the Spring 2009 issue of In Trust magazine. Be sure to look for it in early April.