Columns, Opinions

Campbell ’18: Aggressive recruitment can’t offset limited aid

Staff Columnist
Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Three and a half years ago, Elisha Anderson ’98, former associate director of college admission, visited my high school. For many of you, there is probably nothing too remarkable about that sentence. But I went to a small public high school in southern West Virginia. A school with a college attendance rate of about 40 percent. A school that, for athletics, was placed in West Virginia’s “Coalfields Conference.” I had to drive an hour and a half to hear a group of admission officers from other elite schools speak. The only other college to ever send a representative to my high school was a public university three miles away. Yet I was able to speak one-on-one, for almost an hour, with a representative from Brown who had traveled 168 times further.

For this reason, during my first two years at Brown, I never paid much mind to the demands I heard for better recruitment, financial aid and support for students from low- and middle-income backgrounds. Sure, it would have been great to get better aid (I was lucky enough to be able to choose Brown, though its financial offer fell short of its peer schools), but Brown’s recruiting already seemed so many miles above that of its peers that it felt absurd to complain. After all, if Brown could come to my school, I figured they must have been nearly everywhere. It seemed clear that Brown was already going above and beyond.

Yet last week, the New York Times published an article indicating efforts on recruitment and financial aid remain to be made. In contrast to my experience, Brown still admits more students with income in the top 1 percent than it does in the entire bottom 60 percent of Americans. Of course, this is true for five of the eight schools in the Ivy League. Harvard, known for its generous aid, fares better, but Columbia and Cornell also make the cut. Brown is not only a step behind its peers in recruiting and matriculating low- and middle- income students, but also has the highest median family income of all its peers.

Admittedly, these figures apply to the class of 2013 and may have since changed. My experience may have even been a conscious attempt to remedy this trend. Yet recruiting on its own is not enough. As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to be able to accept Brown even though it declined to fully match the aid I might have received elsewhere. I may have had this choice, but many others do not. The scale of Brown’s financial aid lags behind that of other top-tier schools: According to the Washington Post, Brown offers the lowest percentage of need-based grants in the Ivy League.

Harvard has one of the lowest family median incomes among the Ivies, but it almost certainly receives a comparable number of applications from the one percent. It has managed to bring in a larger number of low- and middle- income students because it has committed to making attendance financially attractive. With its smaller endowment, Brown lacks comparable aid necessary for its undergraduate programs to compete with its peers. Brown can solve its financial diversity problem, but it must first be able to commit to investing in its undergraduate aid on the level of other Ivies.

The New York Times article speaks more to the difficulties that low- and middle- income students face in admission, with good reason. Many students aren’t even aware that these schools are viable options for them, much less the extent of financial aid that is available. From my personal experience, I can attest to the fact that Brown’s Admission Office works hard to solve this problem. It was ridiculous that a Brown representative showed up at my high school when no one else did, and I don’t just mean no one from within the Ivy League: I mean no one. I commend Brown for making this effort; the lengths it went to — at least in my experience — were extensive. Though expanding access in admission is a crucial step, Brown still has work to do to make attendance truly affordable for these low- and middle-income students. As an Ivy whose aid is comparatively quite poor, Brown’s problem remains financial.

Vaughn Campbell ’18 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

Topics: ,