Expanding the University’s financial aid to be need-blind for all students — a recommendation the Committee on Financial Aid is considering making — would be unsustainable under the current University budget, said Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration.
The University is currently operating on a deficit with financial aid acting as the fastest growing expense in its budget, she said. Because of this growth, it is difficult to say how the University would fund any changes in financial aid, Huidekoper said.
The Committee on Financial Aid, one of six strategic planning committees that will make preliminary recommendations to President Christina Paxson next month, announced its intent to explore recommending universal need-blind admissions during a forum the committee cosponsored last November with the Undergraduate Council of Students. Though the University is currently need-blind for first-year domestic applicants, it considers ability to pay when admitting international, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education students.
Though the University has previously looked at the cost of transitioning to universal need-blind admissions, administrators do not have a current estimate on what this change would cost or how it would be funded, Huidekoper said. For instance, she said, staff positions would not be cut for the explicit purpose of funding an expansion of financial aid. And though expanding financial aid is on the table for discussion, it is impossible to determine what might fund that growth without considering what priorities other strategic planning committees might recommend and how much those might cost, Huidekoper said.
Paxson will make an official recommendation following the committee’s final report. If Paxson were to recommend expanding financial aid, the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — would have to approve the change.
Because the Committee on Financial Aid has not yet made an official recommendation, its members are unable to comment on how universal need-blind admissions could be funded, said James Tilton, director of financial aid and committee chair.
“Some of this involves reorganizing resources that are already in place and maybe restructuring how we use existing resources to more effectively address financial aid needs,” said Susan Harvey, committee co-chair and a professor of religious studies. “It isn’t just about asking for more money or writing bigger checks.”
“We have to make trade-offs and prioritize them,” Huidekoper said.
Offering donors examples of specific effects their money could have, such as transitioning to universal need-blind admissions, would make donors more willing to give to Paxson’s upcoming capital campaign, said Alex Mechanick ’15, president of the student advocacy group Brown for Financial Aid and an undergraduate representative on the committee for financial aid. Though the timeline for the capital campaign has not yet been announced, Paxson has previously suggested it would coincide with the University’s 250th anniversary celebration.
Student groups including BFA and the Brown Conversation have influenced the committee’s discussions, Tilton said.
Student turnout in favor of need-blind financial aid for these groups was “absolutely crucial” and “created pressure to make (change) happen fast,” Mechanick said.
While the change in diversity on campus would not be immediately evident after a transition in financial aid, incorporating more students with different perspectives will enhance the classroom experience, Mechanik said. Expanding financial aid would also bolster the University’s reputation, he said.
The committee is also considering issues including student loan burdens and student work requirements, Tilton said.