FOX UNDERCOVER - Many Boston universities are far more generous than Ivy League powerhouse Harvard University when it comes to financial aid and ROTC, a FOX Undercover investigation shows. That finding that doesn't sit well with a local family baffled and angry over Harvard's cutting aid to their ROTC daughter.
"It covers all the costs. I've never paid a cent to go to Northeastern. It's really nice," said Alixandra Powers.
At Northeastern, students like her sign on to serve their country after they graduate, and in exchange ROTC pays all of their tuition -- $39,320 a year. On top of that they get at least another $7,864 from the university for other expenses.
"It's definitely a large incentive. ROTC wouldn't be what it is. It wouldn't have the strength in numbers and we wouldn't be able to produce the same quality officers if ROTC didn't offer scholarships," said Kevin Wong.
It's a different story across the Charles River at Harvard University, where Rick Coveno's daughter Madison is a student and a member of the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Madison initially was receiving about $15,000 per year in financial aid from the university to offset the annual bill of $54,496 for tuition and room and board.
Then Madison continued her family's strong tradition of military service and joined the ROTC, committing to service in the Air Force for four years after she graduates. In return, ROTC gives her $18,000-a-year toward her college education.
That's when Harvard cut all of her financial aid.
"It's unpatriotic and anti-military and it needs to be changed," Rick Coveno told FOX Undercover. "So we called, ‘Hey why aren't we getting our financial aid anymore? We qualified for this as a family.' And they said, ‘Now you're receiving ROTC tuition assistance and so the Harvard financial aid, you're not going to get that anymore.'"
It's not just Coveno who's complaining about Harvard's policy. The Crimson, the university student newspaper, published a critical editorial eight months after the university welcomed ROTC back to campus. The editorial says the university treats "ROTC scholarships as any other non-Harvard scholarship," but they should be treated differently because "they come with a quid pro quo of four years of military service..."
"From our perspective, ROTC is earned money from her five-year service commitment in the military and it's not some grant or other free money," Rick Coveno said. "That's very little incentive, almost a disincentive to do all that extra work for ROTC when, if you do nothing you get about the same amount of financial aid.
Northeastern isn't the only school with a more generous policy for ROTC students.
ROTC cadets at Boston College also receive an ROTC scholarship that covers their tuition of $43,140 a year. And BC pays $4,818 a year for food. The college also picks up rooming costs during students' senior year, up to an additional $10,470.
MIT and Boston University say the size of ROTC scholarships varies from cadet to cadet, but they allow students to eliminate loans and the amount they're expected to earn working before cutting need-based financial aid.
Harvard wouldn't comment on other schools or say why it doesn't treat ROTC cadets the same way.
In a statement Harvard told FOX Undercover:
"Like every other Ivy League institution, Harvard considers all outside funding received by students - from academic prizes to scholarships to ROTC funding - in calculating financial aid awards for individual families, based strictly on financial need."
Stan Ezekiel, who runs College Planning Group to help parents through the financial aid process, says Harvard has a choice.
"Every college has a choice," he said. "They decide, this is the policy we're going to adhere to, and Harvard has taken the stance that we're not going to change. This is the way it is."
Ezekiel says colleges treat ROTC scholarships differently.
"Harvard, I feel, could've done something if they wanted to. Why they decided not to, I don't know the answer to that," he said.
Ezekiel recommends parents contact a college's financial aid office to see how the school handles outside scholarships. Some, like Harvard, deduct them from your financial aid, but he says others leave them alone.
Harvard's president did write to the Covenos last April saying that a university faculty committee reviewing ROTC matters is aware of their concerns, but the family hasn't heard anything else since.