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Editorial: Take on financial aid

In light of the strategic committee on financial aid's announcement during a public forum last week that it will recommend the University offer need-blind admission to international and transfer students, we want to address financial aid at Brown. The committee, which was created to shape President Christina Paxson's long-term goals, will present its recommendation to Paxson and Provost Mark Schlissel P'15 early next year. We strongly agree with the committee's recommendations, and given overwhelming student support for increased aid as well as the inherent need for such a policy, creating universal need-blind admission should be Paxson's top priority.

In a Herald poll conducted this spring, 57 percent of students indicated that making admission need-blind for transfer and international students should be a higher priority for the University. The same poll found that a plurality of 37.8 percent believed increasing financial aid was the most important issue on which the incoming president should focus. And in April, a newly formed group called Brown For Financial Aid circulated a petition demanding that Paxson improve the University's financial aid policies. Moreover, in her final State of Brown address, former president Ruth Simmons said "financial aid should be a top priority for the University." 

Couple this outpouring of support with a brief look at the financial aid policies of Brown's peers, and the University's status quo grows more concerning. Harvard, Princeton and Yale practice need-blind admissions for both international and transfer students and agree to meet 100 percent of their demonstrated need. Harvard's financial aid budget is $172 million this year - nearly double that of Brown - The Herald reported in April ("Relative to peers, U.'s financial aid lags behind," April 24). And 42 percent of students who took the spring Herald poll said their financial aid packages did not adequately meet their levels of financial need. While Brown has a significantly smaller endowment than its peer institutions, the University should make a concerted effort to step up its standard to match those other institutions have set.

An uncompetitive financial aid policy has consequences for the student body that will only worsen with time. Need-aware admission makes the University less socioeconomically diverse - Director of Financial Aid James Tilton '73 told The Herald in April that only 28 transfers were on financial aid, though roughly 135 total transfers were enrolled in the 2011-12 year alone. The value of having a socioeconomically diverse student body is inarguable. As Schlissel told The Herald in April, "It's voices around the table. The more heterogeneous, the more diverse those voices are, the better learning you do." He added, "If we can't provide that kind of environment, then you're not getting the best education we can provide." 

Furthermore, aside from the social benefits a diverse set of peers can provide, it goes against a basic moral code to deny students admission based on their family's income - or, worse, to force them to turn down Brown as their first choice because other colleges are able to offer them additional aid. 

The University has certainly made significant improvements to its financial aid policies in the last decade, expanding its aid offerings under Simmons and increasing the size of the average aid package by 55 percent over the past seven years. The University's aid offerings are also miles beyond those at other institutions across the country. We are well-aware that the state of the current financial aid policy is a function of budget constraints and a relatively small endowment. But in the interest of Brown not lagging behind other universities and, more importantly, of having the smartest, most interesting and most diverse student body possible, we stand with the committee on financial aid and ask that Paxson devote her time and upcoming capital campaign to expanding financial aid at Brown.


Today's editorial was written by The Herald editorial board. Send comments to


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