University News

Students divided over financial aid allocations

Fin. aid priorities vary among recipients of financial aid, students of different socioeconomic backgrounds

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Undergraduates are nearly evenly divided on whether the University should prioritize its policies for extending need-blind admission or expanding financial aid for middle-income students, according to a Herald poll conducted March 3-4.

Close to 37 percent of students support awarding financial aid to middle-income students who do not currently qualify for it as the University’s top financial aid priority, the poll found. Around 32 percent of students polled endorsed expanding the University’s need-blind admission program to include international, transfer, and Resumed Undergraduate Education students as the top priority, while just over 19 percent supported increasing financial aid for students who already qualify for it.

Holly Gildea ’16 said students may have responded in part based on their current financial aid situation. Students who currently receive insufficient aid or who receive loans as part of their aid packages may be inclined to support increasing aid for students who already receive it because “it’s more salient if you’re experiencing it,” she said.

Gildea selected universal need-blind admission because it “enhances the culture of the school,” she said. “The fact that I can enjoy (financial aid) benefits when someone else can’t because of where they’re from is just not fair.”

Admission being partially dependent on financial standing for some applicants “seems counter to what Brown is about,” said Christopher Thompson ’15.

Among students who receive no tuition assistance, approximately 39 percent favor prioritizing financial aid to middle-income students — a figure higher than among the overall student body, the poll indicated. Close to 57 percent of students receiving just loans from the University selected the same option.

Only around 9 percent of respondents who receive no University financial support — the lowest proportion among all groups — advocated increasing aid for students who already receive it. Students who receive any form of financial aid were more likely to favor this option than the undergraduate population as a whole.

Roughly 46 percent of students receiving grants covering all costs supported prioritizing the expansion of the University’s need-blind admission policies. Appromxiately one-third of students receiving grants covering some of their costs and those receiving no financial aid favored this prioritization, while students receiving only loans or a mix of grants and loans were not as supportive of universal need-blind admission, with about 14 and 27 percent of respondents, respectively, choosing the latter.

Alex Mechanick ’15, president of Brown for Financial Aid, said the poll’s question — “What should be the University’s top financial aid priority?” — was “really silly.” The question “belies the fact that we can make progress on all of these (issues) simultaneously,” he said.

He cited plans to expand Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards and Linking Internships and Knowledge (LINK) Awards as initiatives that benefit individuals who do not receive financial aid as well as those who do.

Mechanick said there is a discrepancy between the conceptions of “middle-income” in the nation and at the University. Students from families who earn less than $60,000 per year — above the national median income — receive full financial aid, Mechanick said. Among Brown undergraduates, “middle-income” includes students from families who earn between 100,000 and 150,000 dollars a year, he added.

“It’s not clear to me that many students selecting this option are thinking of expanding financial aid to families earning $150,000 a year,” Mechanick said, adding that “we need to be suspicious of … just what a result like that means.”

Director of Financial Aid Jim Tilton said he does not foresee a “giant change” in the percentage of middle-income students receiving financial aid in the near future, but he added that the Office of Financial Aid is looking “more carefully” at the financial situations of undergraduates whose families fall in the middle-income category.

“We’re communicating with them more closely, getting much more information about their particular and specific financial situations, and I think that’s allowed us in some cases to assist families in that category,” he said.

Students might not be fully informed about the University’s financial aid policies, which might skew poll results, Mechanick said. “There’s a lot of information that isn’t necessarily accessible to everyone answering the question right now.”

Whether or not the question was phrased in an ideal manner, “a more relevant consideration is, given that everyone thinks we should be allocating more of our resources to financial aid, why aren’t we?” Mechanick asked.

Tilton said he was pleased by the extent to which students participate in discussions about financial aid, particularly during last year’s strategic planning process. “I think students here are fairly in tune with the policies that we have,” he said.

Thompson said when he filled out the poll, he selected extending financial aid to middle-income students because “that’s most similar to where I fall.” But upon reflection, Thompson said he would rather have responded in favor of extending need-blind admission policies.

  • exhausted alum

    FYI: earning $150,000 means something very different depending on where you live or what your current financial circumstances are. If you have multiple children (and maybe some are in college already), or if you live in an expensive metropolitan area, $150,000 won’t get you very far. Some families may have existing loans, medical bills, or other family members to support.

    Besides, Brown’s total bill is over 1/3 of $150,000 (and taxes may take away another 1/3). We’re now talking about less than $50,000 a year to support a family that could have expensive extenuating circumstances.

    Not trying to say that every case is like that, but it’s really not fair to look at $150,000, balk, and assume that those families aren’t prioritizing their finances right.

  • Gunar Pelsen

    The real problem is that the Brown financial aid office gets cheated by fraudulent aid applicants who are not U.S. citizens. They submit bogus family tax returns, and Brown is too willing to believe the unbelievable. So, what point is there in arguing over how legitimate aid is divided? They should make sure first that they are not taken to the cleaners.

  • johnlonergan

    How about addressing the elephant in the room? Why does it cost $55,000 per year to attend Brown as an undergraduate? Why have Brown’s costs increased double the inflation rate over the past 30 years? Why are there over 4500 employees in an institution educating 8500? Why has administration cost increased so dramatically?

    Rather than fight over the spoils of a tilted “scholarship” program, why doesn’t Brown attack the real problem–costs that are unsustainably high which pose an unfair burden on students and their parents?

  • BrownBug&BarrenBank-account

    @johnlonergan:disqus- To engage the conversation:

    55k is the sticker price, not the cost of attendance(COA), which is so much higher. This is offset through administrative back-working: the true cost of attendance is so much higher. Knowing that this neither addresses nor resolves your initial point, I think this must be incorporated with your initial statement. Additionally, 55k is what is left after endowment support and grant redistribution. However, even this amount is not fully paid by many students: I found myself suspended between making too much and not making enough to qualify for the Sidney Frank, yet there was no realistic way that I could cover the 55k price-tag. Due to the financial engines that churn in the background, financial aid was able to support my attendance with generous “Brown University Scholarships” -Brown-based grants that offset the COA by over 50k a year. While I worked multiple jobs to pay my way through Brown, not all who attend Brown swallow the 55k figure.

    Secondly, 4500 employees (sources are always a plus) do more than teach 8500 students. We have hundreds of non-teaching staff. This includes student-employees, employees earning degrees, etc. custodial staff, curators, research, food services, catering, event management, security, HR, financial investment teams, etc. Simply focusing on the instructor/student dyad poorly represents the framework and foundations upon which all of these services are built. Brown is a world-class research institution (the degree to which can be debated) however, the point remains that multiple centers exist within the “Brown Research-ecosystem” that have no real contact with students, yet the money brought into the school from grants feed into the resources drawn upon to provide funding for many other academic on-goings. As a multiple degree holder from Brown and a current employee, I count myself as a member of the 4500 yet there is no way I am qualified to each students. Instead, I work on my research goals and help to improve the Providence community. Brown doesn’t exist exclusively for its students; there are many stakeholders in an academic institution.

    Third point: great question.