In a meeting last week, University faculty passed a motion encouraging the Corporation to amend the University’s payment-based accelerated graduation policy. The current policy — which requires students to pay unaided tuition for the semester they would have attended Brown had they not graduated early — is undoubtedly and indefensibly unjust. Charging prohibitive fees for early graduation restricts this opportunity to the wealthy and inhibits middle- and lower-income students from being able to tailor their Brown education to their unique goals and needs. We thoroughly applaud the faculty for taking the initiative to recommend the elimination of a policy that undermines our institutional values of promoting equity and empowering students to craft their own academic paths.
The current petition process requires students who wish to graduate early to present “compelling academic or professional opportunities,” in addition to paying a semester’s worth of tuition. The faculty’s proposed changes to this policy would allow students with “exceptional circumstances” — such as a medical or family emergency — the ability to petition for early graduation. Furthermore, the motion proposes complete elimination of the requisite tuition payment. By removing the payment system altogether, the University would help ensure that a student’s ability to pay does not preclude them from having the opportunity to graduate early.
The most troubling aspect of the current policy is the financial burden it places on lower-income students seeking early graduation. The University’s official policy states that students who have fulfilled degree requirements may apply to graduate after seven semesters. Yet the University also has an eight-semester enrollment requirement, which students who graduate early must meet by paying full tuition for the semester they won’t attend. Because all early graduates, regardless of financial aid, must pay the full unaided tuition cost, the policy blatantly favors wealthier students. A $26,710 fee for early graduation is indefensible on its face but becomes even more troubling in light of recent conversations surrounding privilege and its institutional basis at Brown. This privilege-encoded-in-policy is not only unjust in theory but also is discriminatory in practice: Many students may pursue early graduation precisely to avoid the immense financial burden of paying another semester’s tuition or staying out of the workforce for a semester more.
That said, we acknowledge that there are certainly merits to completing at least eight semesters at Brown. The University’s official statement on liberal learning asks students “to chart the broadest possible intellectual journey” to develop a nuanced perspective that will bring context to a specialized area of study. Full achievement of these seemingly boundless objectives may indeed require eight semesters of learning for many students. Moreover, it is possible that a policy allowing students to freely pursue early graduation may result in unnecessary and unproductive pressure to accelerate their education.
Nonetheless, another, more defining aspect of Brown is the open curriculum’s emphasis on allowing each student the freedom to cultivate an academic experience tailored to their unique needs, interests and goals. If certain students feel that their specific situation is best served by a more intensive, shorter Brown education, they should be able to pursue that path without any University-instituted barrier — financial or otherwise.
However, given the importance of empowering students to chart their own Brown education, removing the payment-based aspect of the accelerated graduation petition process does not go far enough. A policy that requires students to provide exceptional reasons for wanting to graduate early is unnecessarily restrictive and antithetical to University values that encourage students to have agency in deciding their academic path. Rather than enforcing a policy that suggests University officials alone are best suited to make a decision about a student’s graduation timeline, the University ought to trust that any student who wishes to end their time here early has likely thought seriously about this decision and how it fits within their broader personal, academic and professional goals. Transitioning away from an accelerated graduation petition process that places unnecessary barriers in a student’s way would be in line with current policies set by peer institutions like Yale, Columbia and Dartmouth, which do not include tuition payment or exceptional circumstances as requisites for early graduation.
We praise the faculty for recognizing the inherent inequity in requiring students to pay for a full semester of tuition in order to graduate early. As President Christina Paxson P’19 recently stated in response to the college admissions scandal, “once students come to campus, they deserve to be treated equally.” We are glad this motion recognizes the University’s responsibility to keep this promise, even as students seek to end their time here early. Moving forward, we compel the University to address additional barriers to early graduation — trusting its students to appreciate the inherent value of time spent on College Hill and construct the educational timeline that works best for them.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Elisheva Goldberg ’22, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20 and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.