updated 3/31/2006 8:30:21 AM ET 2006-03-31T13:30:21

Families earning less than $60,000 can send their children to Harvard University for free, the school announced Thursday.

Harvard expanded the financial aid program for low- and middle-income families it started two years ago when it waived tuition for families with incomes less than $40,000.

It is among a handful of high-profile schools that have waived such fees in an effort to economically diversify their student populations.

“There is no more important mission for Harvard and higher education than promoting equality of opportunity for all,” President Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement. “These increases ... send a clear signal to middle-class families who have all too often felt that Harvard and other leading universities are out of reach.”

Harvard also announced reduced fees for families with incomes between $60,000 and $80,000.

Two-thirds of Harvard students receive financial aid, and the average grant award for the next academic year is expected to be more than $33,000, which covers about 70 percent of the school’s costs.

It cost nearly $42,000 to attend Harvard for the current academic year.

The university announced its projected financial aid budget for next year is $90 million, a 6.2 percent increase over the past year.

Students admitted for next fall’s freshman class are the most diverse in the school’s history. Nearly 52 percent are women, 17.7 percent are Asian-American, 10.5 percent are black, nearly 10 percent are Latino and 1.4 percent are Native American, university officials said.

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