Brown University plans to eliminate student loans with new initiative

Brown University launched a campaign Wednesday to eliminate loans from its financial aid packages for all current and incoming students in the next academic year.

The initiative, called The Brown Promise, relies on meeting a December fundraising goal of $30 million, in order to implement the overall $120 million plan. The Brown Promise intends to eliminate all loans in Brown's financial aid package and replace them with scholarships and grants.

In a press release, Brown reported that past efforts to increase affordability, such as a need-blind application process, had improved enrollment among low-income and first-generation students. 

The initiative is in response to the challenges faced by families with moderate incomes who are not eligible for generous aid but who still can't afford the full cost of attending college, according to the press release.  

In eliminating loans from financial aid packages, Brown joins other Ivy Leagues that have done the same, including the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University.

Jon Tarrant, certified educational planner, said that while the initiative certainly benefits students, it also keeps Brown in standing with its fellow Ivy League schools.

“I assume they’re doing it for altruistic reasons but also to be able to better compete with their peers who do the same thing,” Tarrant said. “If Penn and Yale and Harvard are eliminating loans, and they want to successfully compete for particularly needy students — Pell Grant students — then they need to do the same.”

According to a report by Forbes Magazine, student debt is now the second highest consumer debt category, surpassing both credit card debt and auto loans. 

Tarrant said fears of loans and financial aid are on the forefront of students' minds when applying to schools.

“If tuition continues to rise and minimum wage and family income doesn’t, I would assume it would become of greater significance,” he said. “Unfortunately a lot of kids will still under-apply. Parents will see the sticker price and they’ll say, ‘We can’t afford that,’ and they don’t realize that perhaps, if they apply and were accepted through financial aid, they might be able to.”

According to the UNC Office of Scholarships & Financial Aid, UNC makes up the difference that students are unable to pay using grants, scholarships, loans and work-study. 

Eric Johnson, a spokesperson for the Office of Scholarships & Student Aid, said Carolina students have some of the lowest debt among major universities.

Johnson said if UNC were to follow Brown's example, it would take a significant expansion in the amount of prior resources the University is able to bring to the table, which is something it is working hard to expand. 

“We want the best students that admissions can find us, not the best students that can afford it,” Johnson said.

Ling Zhou Chen, a transfer student at UNC, said she would not have been able to come to UNC without the full support of a financial aid package.

Chen said although UNC was her dream school, the decision to transfer to UNC was difficult for her family, especially after her experience at Boston University, where she had to withdraw after her first year due to its high expenses.

“The package definitely convinced my parents,” Chen said.

Her financial aid package included a large grant, federal aid and loans offered by the school.

This year, Chen was able to drop the loans, after some changes in her grants and dropping her meal plan.

Johnson said Brown's fundraising campaign highlights the importance of scholarships and financial aid as a centerpiece in college admissions. 

He said student debt is something UNC is working hard to address. 

“I just think it’s important that we as a university freely admit that student debt is a real concern," Johnson said. "Especially for some of our middle income and upper middle income students who may not qualify for as much federal and state aid."

@emilykdavis1

state@dailytarheel.com

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