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Editorial: Ensuring transparency in BrownTogether

On Jan. 4, the University announced that it had successfully raised more than half of its BrownTogether fundraising goal, collecting over $1.64 billion since the campaign’s official launch in fall 2015. The previous month, the University also announced that it had reached its $30 million target to fund “The Brown Promise: The Future of Financial Aid at Brown,” an initiative to eliminate all loans from students’ financial aid packages. While we commend the University for the extraordinary progress it has made toward these ambitious goals, important questions about the initiative to eliminate loans and the specific allocations of BrownTogether funding remain unanswered.   

The most publicized part of the BrownTogether fundraising effort is, without a doubt, the Brown Promise. On paper, this subsidiary campaign heralds a new financial future for Brown — one that makes the University a more attractive destination for prospective applicants, eliminates a considerable source of anxiety for current students and promotes a more inclusive learning environment for the entire community.

In practice, however, the sustained implementation of a loan-free financial aid policy will likely prove far more complicated. Though Brown Promise’s initial target has been met and the financial aid packages for incoming and current students will not include loans in the next school year, the funds raised thus far only cover the initial costs of the program. Because the initiative costs $4.5 million annually, the University needs to raise an additional $90 million to make the initiative sustainable in the long term.

Even if these additional funds are procured, it is not clear whether the initiative to eliminate loans will actually relieve students of the burden of loans. As the experiences of peer universities that have moved to eliminate loans indicate, administrative commitments to loan-free financial aid can still leave aid-receiving students with sizeable loan obligations. In 2008, for example, Yale came under criticism after implementing its no-loan policy because some students still had to take out loans to meet student income contributions — a component of financial aid packages that students themselves are expected to pay. Penn, which also eliminated loans in 2008, faced similar criticism and ended up modifying its policy from “no-loan” to “grant-based,” making loans available on a case-by-case basis. In light of this disappointing track record, the University must provide clarity as to how it plans to avoid stumbling into the same pitfalls encountered by peer institutions.

More broadly, the University has not yet provided a transparent breakdown of how the funds raised under the BrownTogether umbrella will finance all the president’s initiatives. The whole campaign consists of four major categories: the “Annual Fund,” “Education and Research,” “Campus and Community” and “Investing in People.” Of these, “Investing in People” is the largest campaign bucket, consisting of a third of the $3 billion total campaign — but it has also made the least progress toward its fundraising goal, with only $400 million, or 36 percent, raised out of its $1.1 billion target. Though the University plans to emphasize “Investing in People” in the next stage of the campaign, we are concerned that certain initiatives funded by the BrownTogether campaign — including the hiring of historically underrepresented faculty, as proposed by the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan — still lack visibility. In particular, it is unclear what proportion of the $165 million set aside for the DIAP has been funded and how much money remains to be raised.

The project of making Brown a more inclusive, financially supportive institution is an urgent priority. But the University must better communicate to the community how it plans to resolve the challenges its fundraising efforts currently face. BrownTogether has the potential to reshape and elevate the Brown experience for generations to come. In fully and sustainably actualizing this progress, though, there is still a long way to go.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Mili Mitra ’18, Rhaime Kim ’ 20 and Grace Layer ’20. Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to

Correction: This editorial previously described BrownPromise as a no-loans policy. Brown Promise, however, describes itself as an initiative to eliminate loans, not a no-loans policy. Brown’s initiative to eliminate loans promises that loans will not figure in undergraduate financial aid packages. It does not promise that students will not have to take out loans to attend university. The editorial has been corrected to reflect this nuance. The Herald regrets the error.


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