The University’s financial aid budget for the 2018 fiscal year increased to $122.1 million — a 1.3 percent increase from the 2017 fiscal year financial aid budget. Over the last eight years, the average annual financial aid budget increase has been 7.3 percent, 6 percent more than this coming year’s increase.
Because last year’s financial aid budget was not fully used, a decrease in budget growth resulted, said Dean of Financial Aid Jim Tilton. Each year’s financial aid budget is partly based on the previous year’s budget performance, he added.
Though the budget has no immediate effect on students applying for financial aid, student need is calculated based upon the University’s financial aid policies, which are evaluated “in context with the budget,” Tilton said. “We can’t, for example, necessarily suggest something (in terms of financial aid policy) that would completely overspend in our financial aid budget,” Tilton added.
Despite the lower than usual increase in the financial aid budget, the University will continue to meet all students’ demonstrated need, said Provost Richard Locke. “Because we’re need-blind, we don’t know what the needs are (before admitting students),” Locke said. “There will be years where we actually went way over our financial aid budget.”
Locke said that the University will go over budget to ensure that all students receive the aid to meet what the University has determined as their demonstrated need.
Regardless of the budget increases, Tilton does not “see any significant changes happening to the financial aid policies” in the coming years. But the University has made a long-term goal of attracting more middle-income students, Locke said, as Brown’s middle-income financial aid packages are not as strong as those of Brown’s peer institutions. The University asks “for more family contributions or loans” in a way that “some of our peers don’t,” Locke said.
The decrease in the growth of the financial aid budget may work against the University in terms of creating more attractive policies for middle-income students, said Jamey Rorison, director of research and policy at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. “I would imagine that if the institutional aid budget is cut … they’ll probably maintain their promise to fund the lowest income students, but I would imagine it would put additional strains … on the students who earn grants from Brown but wouldn’t earn the full grant,” Rorison said.
“Where we are struggling is in that middle-income” bracket, Locke said. “We think that for the health of the University, the strategy is to try to make those offers in the middle more attractive.”
In addition to decreasing the growth in the financial aid budget, the University Corporation approved an increase in total student charges by 4.4 percent to $67,439. For the first time in recent years, the tuition increase outpaces the financial aid budget increase.
Ultimately, the University hopes to “align the growth in financial aid with the growth of tuition increase,” Locke said. But the University’s growth in recent years has made that harder, he added.
Rorison said that universities should not aim to balance their budgets by “placing less priority on need-based grant aid.”