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Students divided over financial aid allocations

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

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.


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