A promise that’s paid off

In its inaugural year, The Brown Promise has already made a lasting impact on admissions, socioeconomic diversity, and the future of financial aid.

"Congratulations! I am delighted to inform you that you have been admitted to Brown University's Class of 2022."

Benjamin Budway ’22 had to reread the first few lines of his acceptance letter before it finally registered. He got into Brown. It was his top-choice school by a longshot for many reasons, but chief among them was the applied math program. Not many colleges have an applied math program, but Brown did—and it's one of the best in the country.

The pros were endless, but there was one very large con: the price tag. Brown was more expensive than the other schools he had been accepted to. Budway and his family feared that a Brown education would come at the cost of decades of paying off loan debt.

Had he applied any other year, Budway may have had to say "no" to Brown. But this wasn't any other year. It was the first year of an initiative that would be a game-changer for Brown admission—The Brown Promise.

What is The Brown Promise?

Launched in the fall of 2018, The Brown Promise removes loans from all undergraduate financial aid packages awarded by the University and replaces them with scholarships. In other words, students with demonstrated need admitted to Brown could come to College Hill and potentially leave with little or no debt.

For Dean of Financial Aid Jim Tilton, that's a big deal: "The total number of four-year colleges and universities is roughly 3,200. There are only 56 schools that are both need-blind and meet 100 percent of demonstrated need. Of those 56 schools, Brown is one of 18 schools meeting that need with 'no loan' aid packages. That is a very small and exceptional group of schools."

The joy for me is when parents realize that their son or daughter could graduate from Brown debt-free or with limited debt.

Jim Tilton Dean of Financial Aid

Brown became need-blind (accepting students based on their merits and not on their ability to pay tuition) for domestic students in 2003 and was committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need long before that. However, that need was met through a combination of University scholarship, student work, and student loans. Before the 2018–19 academic year, only students from households with incomes below $100,000 saw aid packages without loans. The Brown Promise removed the income threshold to include not only students from families with lower incomes, but also those from families with more moderate incomes.

A formative first year

The Brown Promise may only be a year old, but it's racked up a litany of accomplishments. In its first year, it helped 1,452 undergraduate students. It's a big contributor to this past year's drop in student borrowing, as students from all income levels are borrowing less on average than in recent years.

The Brown Promise has also helped reverse a troubling trend. For the past several years, the University had watched as fewer and fewer students from moderate-income households decided to come to College Hill. Brown's student body was losing its socioeconomic diversity.

"Before The Brown Promise, the distribution of our student population was u-shaped, where students from the lowest and highest income levels were matriculating at much higher rates than those in the middle. Now, the distribution is almost evenly distributed across all income levels," says Tilton.

Because of The Brown Promise, I not only get to concentrate in applied math, but I get to do it in the best applied math program in the country.

Benjamin Budway '22
Benjamin Budway portrait
 

Others have noticed the potential of The Brown Promise. Lots of others, in fact. The University received 38,764 applicants for the Class of 2023, shattering previous records. And, more students are saying "yes" to Brown. Yield rates (the percentage of accepted students who matriculate) that had been steadily dropping in recent years jumped from 58 to 61 percent.

"For these students and their families, loans and borrowing are an option instead of a requirement," says Tilton. "The joy for me is when parents realize that their son or daughter could graduate from Brown debt-free or with limited debt. It is an extremely special conversation to have as the Dean of Financial Aid."

"It was like the world opened up, because it did."

Like many students benefiting from The Brown Promise, Budway and his family couldn't believe the aid package when they first saw it. No loans? Budway thought it had to be a typo or clerical error—but it wasn't. It was the real deal, and he was going to Brown.

"It was like the world opened up, because it did," he says. "Many of the other schools I got into didn't even have an applied math department. Because of The Brown Promise, I not only get to concentrate in applied math, but I get to do it in the best applied math program in the country."

Keeping a lasting promise.

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