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Editorial: Cutting the summer contribution

Brown, alongside its wealthy peers, has a long history of promoting inequality and helping the elite build and maintain their wealth. We cannot forget that it has been less than 12 years since Brown committed to need-blind admission for domestic students, a fraction of its 251 years of existence. But even today, with its trumpeted “need-blind, meets full need” admission mantra, Brown continues to be an unequal place. The expectation that all students directly contribute to their college expenses through the flat-rate Summer Earnings Expectation causes low-income students to work more hours, avoid classes with expensive books and compromise their educational opportunities. This inherent inequality compromises low-income students’ experiences at Brown, while the University benefits from its claim to be a “need-blind, full-need” school.

Brown and most of its peer institutions mandate that all students fund part of their education, regardless of financial circumstances. Brown expects that all students bring in a minimum of $2,600 or $3,100 — depending on their class year — at the start of the year.

Of the class of 2019, only 42 percent of students receive financial aid, and of those, 30 percent will not have a parental contribution. Aid policy states that families that earn under $60,000 and have less than $100,000 in assets will not have a parent contribution, which means that almost 12 percent of students in the class of 2019 come from families that earn under this amount. To this 12 percent, who come from families that range from no income to working class families, several thousands of dollars of spare income for books or transportation is a massive weight on their child’s shoulders. So when Director of Financial Aid Jim Tilton said last week that “financial aid packages have a $1,450 allowance for books, ranking the highest among the Ivies,” he forgot to mention that even for the lowest-income students, Brown expects that textbook funding to come from their summer contribution — money that they must bring to school themselves.

Programs like the LINK that fund low-income students to pursue unpaid internships and develop their network over the summer, while helpful, hardly provide enough for a student to live in a major city. This lack of funding does little to remove the barriers that low-income students face when looking for meaningful summer employment opportunities. Without Brown’s assistance, how are low-income students who pursue unpaid internships or conduct research via the UTRA going to be able to pay their summer contribution?

Financial aid is not charity; it is a tool for equity. It is recognition by all parties that Brown is an institution that fundamentally lacks equality; it is an attempt to make Brown more accessible to anyone who is not in the upper-class of American society. Nevertheless, though our current system is capable of enabling low-income and middle-class students to enroll in Brown and, for the most part, afford tuition, to say that it completely eradicates all financial burdens on behalf of the student would not only be a gross inaccuracy, but also an insult to those students who almost exclusively rely on aid for their very presence at this institution.

As Brown tries to become more socioeconomically diverse, incongruent policies like the summer contribution need to go. As Brown embarks on a capital fundraising campaign and asks donors to give to the University, donors giving to financial aid programs should ask the Office of Advancement how many hours the student they fund will have to work weekly, how many books they will be unable to afford and where Brown expects them to eat during breaks when wealthier students leave the University. We’d love to hear the answers.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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