Guided by data and student advocacy, Brown University is taking steps to better meet the basic needs of its low-income students. Most recently, the university has committed to covering the cost of required textbooks for all incoming freshmen receiving university scholarship funds, as well as upperclassmen with an expected family contribution of $0. In recent years, the school also has increased scholarship amounts to fully cover direct costs and made on-campus dining plans more inclusive, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Aligning financial support with school values
Fourteen percent of Brown students qualify to receive federal Pell Grants, and administrators are working to identify and address structural factors that complicate those students’ degree pursuits. Vernicia Elie, assistant dean for financial advising, says the school’s emergency grants program, which received 745 applications in its first year, offered a “rich data set” that revealed students’ ongoing struggle to pay for books and food. Elie told The Chronicle that the survey results prompted Brown administrators to ask, “Have we created some policies and systems that don’t align with our values?”
Eliminating the choice between course materials and living expenses
For instance, the administration learned that some low-income students were avoiding classes with expensive textbooks, or making difficult tradeoffs in order to take the classes—running counter to the spirit of Brown’s open curriculum and goal of making any discipline accessible to any student. In response, this year the school launched a pilot program to buy textbooks for some low-income students. It will expand the program in fall 2019.
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In addition, the university has increased its scholarships to ensure that families with zero expected family contribution truly pay $0 toward direct costs for tuition, room and board, and fees. Previously, some students with no parental contribution were still required to pay $2,700 plus a share of their assets.
Making dining experiences more inclusive
In hopes of curbing food insecurity, Brown also adjusted its student dining plan policy to require all first-year students to have a full dining plan. Previously, some low-income students opted for less-comprehensive plans in order to secure refunds that they could then use to pay university bills. By eliminating that option, the university hopes to mitigate the divides between low-income and high-income students by bringing everyone together into a shared dining experience.
“It’s not us making exceptions for these students,” Elie said. “It’s us making sure our campus allows us to include everyone.”