First-years adapting to work expectation

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Because of an overhaul of the financial aid program last February, many first-years no longer enjoy the benefits of a “no-work” policy that formerly covered first-year aid recipients. Without a University Work Scholarship, , freshmen are logging hours to cover what James Tilton, director of financial aid, called their indirect expenses.

Tilton said wages earned from work-study are intended to cover nontuition expenses – “the costs students have while they are here,” including books and school supplies – rather than to be applied toward tuition. The academic year work-study expectation this year from students is $2,450, up $50 from last year.

But many first-years say it’s difficult to balance employment with other on-campus activities.

Fei Cai ’12, who works at least nine hours each week at the Orwig Music Library, said the job takes up much of her free time.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on exploring new things. I know I can’t do as many clubs because I’m working,” she said.

Cai, a PLME student, added that she occasionally misses PLME events because of her work expectations.

Lauren Urban ’12, another first-year participating in work-study, said she occasionally feels frustrated by her job requirements, especially as a new student.

“I’m still trying to adjust to everything, and sometimes it feels like working is just another burden on students’ lives,” she said.

Tilton acknowledged the students’ concern, saying there was “some discussion” about how the University Work Scholarship aided first-years’ transitions. But in the end, after speaking with many students, the Financial Aid office decided to eliminate the scholarship as part of a broader financial aid reform, he said.

“We wanted to create the largest impact for the largest number of students, and in the end, I think we did that,” he said.

The reformed financial aid policy aimed to reduce student loans. Under the plan, students from families with an annual income of less than $60,000 and total assets of less than $100,000 are not expected to contribute to the cost of their undergraduate education. This year, 34 percent of students receiving financial aid are paying nothing, as opposed to 12 percent last year, according to Tilton.

Overall, the burden of loans is lower for many students, not just those whose families earn less than $60,000 annually. Sixty-one percent of students receiving financial aid have packages with no loans, compared to last year’s figure of just 6 percent. Instead of loans, the cost of students’ education is being subsidized by University scholarships and work-study options, said Tilton.

Tilton said the Office of Financial Aid spoke with numerous students before forming the new initiatives. He reported that loans were “creeping up” and that most students told him that they preferred “no loans” to “no work.”

Tilton went on to explain that new program ultimately affords first-years more flexibility in funding their educations.

“Our new initiative allows students to decide what’s best for them,” he said.

Though many students’ financial aid packages will include work-study in lieu of loans, Tilton said they are still free to choose to borrow money instead of earning it on-campus.

“They can work less hours and borrow the difference, if that’s what they would prefer to do,” he said.

Even so, a small fraction of the class of 2012 will still receive University Work Scholarships, Tilton said. Students receiving the Sidney E. Frank Endowed Scholarship – those who demonstrate the most financial need – will be awarded the $2,450 during their first year at Brown.

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