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Not to be outsmarted by Harvard, Yale University today says it's slashing the cost of college by more than half for families with incomes under $120,000.

Make $120,000 to $200,000 and the college bill will be trimmed by a third or more. Quite a discount when you consider a year at New Haven now costs about $48,000.

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But the Yale tuition sale didn't stop there. Yale says it is eliminating the need for students to take out loans and making changes so more families qualify for aid. And it will no longer count the first $200,000 of family assets in its needs formula.

Yale says this is the biggest boost to financial aid spending in its history. The school's annual aid budget will rise by about $24 million to more than $80 million.

These changes are in place for students arriving on campus in the fall.

No doubt about it, higher education is on sale these days.

Harvard a month ago said it was overhauling its financial aid policy to attract more middle- and upper-middle-income students. At Harvard, families with incomes under $180,000 won't pay more than 10 percent of their income for college. Some won't pay anything at all. Harvard also is getting rid of student loans in its undergraduate aid packages.

Also last month, Duke University and the California Institute of Technology said they plan to eliminate loans for lower- and middle-income students.

More schools are expected to announce similar programs in the weeks ahead.

Of course, you still have to have the grades to get into these schools. But it's about time they started cutting families a break on price. The cost of four years at a top school is more than most parents have saved for retirement. And retirement is expected to last 8 times longer than college.

But before we start giving out a college cheer, consider this sobering analysis by the Project on Student Debt's executive director Robert Shireman.

"While Yale will cost significantly less for many students, it's important for families to realize that a no-loan policy is not a no-cost policy, and that they may still end up borrowing in order to cover costs," he says.

Plus: "Now that Yale and Harvard have increased financial aid for a wider range of incomes, there is a danger that other colleges will move their more limited financial aid dollars from lower income families toward higher income families in order to compete for top students," Shireman says.

Let's hope that schools don't leave lower-income families behind.

Check out the Project on Student Debt for a list of schools that promise to reduce or eliminate loans for students.

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