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For transfers, Brown often costs more

For Caden Salvata '09, Brown is a new experience. As a student at the two-year, all-male Deep Springs College, Salvata took classes with three to five other students and received a full scholarship, as all Deep Springs students do. But at Brown, which appealed to Salvata because of its open curriculum and cognitive neuroscience program, Salvata is in classes with more than 100 students and receives no financial support from the University.

Like all transfer students, Salvata soon realized that financial aid policy for transfers differs from that of the regular admissions process. Transfer students are admitted on a "need-aware," not need-blind basis, and those requesting aid are automatically placed in the highest loan bracket, regardless of their parents' income levels. If transfer students do not apply for and receive financial aid in their first year at the University, they are not eligible to apply in subsequent years.

When Salvata was admitted to Brown as a transfer student, he also received a letter from the Office of Financial Aid notifying him that his application for financial aid was incomplete because he had neglected to fill out a portion of it, the CSS Business/Farm Supplement. Neither of his parents own a business or a farm, so Salvata assumed he didn't need to submit the form.

"This came as quite a shock, since neither one of my parents are self-employed and none of the other 14 schools that I've applied to for aid have ever required that form," Salvata said. "I was also never sent anything that informed me of the application's incomplete status."

The University did place Salvata on a waiting list for financial aid. Because Salvata was on the waiting list, he had to commit to attending Brown before he knew what the financial burden on his family would be. "I decided to attend and didn't get aid," he said. "And since I won't get aid this year, I am not eligible for any aid during my entire time at Brown."

Susan Farnum, associate director of the Office of Financial Aid, said transfer students like Salvata can still apply for aid after their first year on College Hill but can only receive federal aid, loans or work-study income - not scholarship aid.

Salvata is one of nearly 60 transfer students who enrolled at Brown this fall. According to Dean of Admission Jim Miller '73, the University expected to enroll between 80 and 85 total transfers this year. Last fall the University enrolled 22 transfer students in the fall semester.

"This was an extremely competitive application year for transfers - we were only able to admit 12 or 13 percent of those who applied," Miller said. Miller said that the number of transfer students has fluctuated year-to-year since 2005, when the University adopted a need-aware transfer admission policy and, Miller said, "made the decision to commit additional financial aid resources to transfers."

"It really is a function of the number of students we can accommodate effectively," Miller said of transfer enrollment. The number of transfer students accepted each year depends on a general calculation made by the Corporation, the University's governing body, about how many students the University can support each year.

Because of the University's limited support and funding for transfer student aid, all transfers requesting financial aid are placed in the highest loan bracket - for families with an income of $85,000 or more.

Sam Dickman '10, who transferred this fall from the University of Utah, thought the loan policy was unclear to transfer applicants and said it came as a surprise to him - after he'd signed up to start at Brown in the fall.

"My frustration arises from the fact that after I committed and dug a little deeper into the financial aid policies for transfers, I found that all transfers are put in the same loan bracket regardless of financial circumstance," Dickman wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

"This information was not presented in my initial financial aid letter, nor was it mentioned on the Brown Web site," he said.

"I only learned this after speaking on the phone with a financial aid representative," he said. "My frustration rests with the impression that this policy seems hidden under many layers of bureaucracy."

Dickman said that transfers should not be treated any differently from students entering as freshmen, but he does see the policy as a potential incentive for students to apply as first-years, not transfers.

"Ideally we'd love that all our populations were admitted need-blind and a student's need was never a consideration, but it's a budget issue based on our scholarship resources for undergraduate students," Farnum said. "Because we're committed to meeting 100 percent of a (non-transfer) student's financial need ... obviously it can be very expensive, depending on the need of the student."

Financial aid issues aside, transfers said they have transitioned well to Brown despite a meager orientation effort. Jason Skinner '09, who came to Brown from a two-year community college, said the official orientation was lacking.

"I had to figure out how to register for classes, they didn't really explain that very well," he said. "We didn't get a campus tour, I had to figure out where everything was on my own."

Eric Rodriguez '08, who transferred in the fall of 2006 from Rio Hondo Community College in California, agreed with Skinner that Brown needs to improve transfer orientation and recalled his own transition from a community college to Brown.

"I had poor study skills - I would do stuff the night before, I wouldn't read the material. It was a whole different ballgame," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said he learned study skills from his peers at Brown. "(It's easy) if you've gone to prep school your whole life. Coming from where I was coming from, you never learn it."

Rodriguez said that he was able to attend Brown thanks to his financial aid from the University. "I'll be honest, Brown has treated me really well in terms of financial aid. They support me like none other," he said.

Rodriguez praised the Office of Financial Aid and its director, James Tilton, but agreed that more financial aid is needed for transfer and international students, none of whom are admitted need-blind.

In particular, Rodriguez said the University should provide more financial aid support to students who may wish to do internships but have to work to pay the student contribution of their aid package.

"The whole idea of the University is to send us out into the world, to have a well-rounded experience, through internships, fellowships," he said.

"Most students aren't able to afford to do this. The BIAP and AIP are wonderful programs, (but) really underfunded," Rodriguez added, referencing the Brown Internship Award Program and the Aided Internship Program grants which, together, benefited only about 60 students in 2007.

Bremen Donovan '08, who transferred to Brown in 2005 after spending time at two other universities, was able to work overseas with refugees this summer, thanks to support from a grant through the Watson Institute for International Studies and worked at a literacy nonprofit this summer with help frm the BIAP and AIP grants.

"I regret nothing about my decision to come here," Donovan said. "I can imagine some people being unsatisfied here, but - and I know this sounds cheesy - I wake up every morning and I think about how ridiculously lucky I am to be here."

Still, Donovan agreed that there is more the University can do for transfers.

"If Brown stops offering financial aid to transfer students, or offers aid to fewer students, there will probably be fewer coming in," Donovan said.

"I think that really contradicts Brown's MO of being a really open and welcoming school that offers opportunities to everyone," she said.


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