Fatter wallet, but more thin envelopes

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Just a few years ago, getting into – and paying for – Brown was a whole different ballgame. At the beginning of 2002, the University didn’t have a need-blind admission policy, offered only $46.3 million annually in financial aid and its senior class had been admitted from a pool of 15,490 applicants. As the class of 2008 graduates, Brown is need-blind for domestic students, boasts a $68.5 million financial aid budget for 2009 and has just seen its most competitive year yet – 20,630 applicants and an all-time low acceptance rate of 13.3 percent.

And as the policies change, so do the ambitious high schoolers looking to become Brunonians. Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 said new financial aid policies and international recruiting are attracting classes with greater socioeconomic, racial and geographical diversity than ever before.

“We haven’t increased dramatically the number of international students, but we’ve increased the geography of international students,” he said. This year’s graduating seniors represent 37 nations; the students admitted into the class of 2012 hail from 45 different countries. Admission officers’ journeys abroad are garnering support from donors, too. In January, a Brown parent gave $5.75 million to support students from Africa.

While some admission officers recruit abroad, those back home are getting the word out that Brown is a place at which “students can do really elegant science,” Miller said. Their work may be paying off: last fall 36 percent of first-year students enrolled looking to complete a bachelor of science degree, up from 24 percent in the class of 2008.

Most top-tier colleges have been bolstering their financial aid offerings and reporting lower admission rates each year, and Brown is no exception. Harvard, Amherst, Columbia, Princeton and Dartmouth have all revamped their aid policies in the past few years – some of them eliminating contributions altogether for students with lower family incomes. Eager to compete for the best students, Brown’s governing body announced in February an $11.5 million boost to financial aid, raising the aid budget by about 20 percent. Under the new policy, Brown families with household incomes under $60,000 will not have to make a parental contribution to tuition and students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year will not have to take out loans.

James Tilton, director of financial aid, acknowledged that Brown’s new policies may not be as expansive as those of other institutions, but he believes they are impressive given Brown’s resources.