In 2018-19, with $30 million in initial donor support, Brown University eliminated packaged loans from undergraduate financial aid awards, replacing them instead with scholarship funds. Now, the Brown Promise initiative has become permanent.
The continued generosity of donors enabled the University to surpass its $120 million fundraising goal this winter, fully endowing the Brown Promise and ensuring the sustainability of the financial aid initiative for generations to come. The effort is a direct response to the challenges faced by moderate-income families, who often do not qualify for the generous financial aid offered to low-income families, yet also do not have the full resources to cover the cost of attending college.
Brown President Christina H. Paxson said that with permanent funding for the Brown Promise, the University has achieved a major step toward increased access and affordability, further strengthening Brown’s commitment to welcoming and supporting talented students from the widest possible range of backgrounds.
“Making Brown an affordable choice for extraordinarily talented students from every income level is nothing short of transformational,” Paxson said. “The thousands of dedicated donors who supported the Brown Promise truly understand the importance of building a generous financial aid program for our students, who will be the next generation of leaders in our community and across the world.”
The Brown Promise is now the enduring legacy of those who contributed a wide range of gifts to ensure that financial considerations do not prevent talented students who qualify for admission from choosing Brown, Paxson added. Since its initial implementation in the 2018-19 academic year, more than 3,500 students have benefited from the Brown Promise, which has made a significant difference for families who confront difficult financial decisions and concerns about loan debt when deciding where their students should attend college.
"My family was hesitant because they thought at first: ‘It’s an Ivy, it’s a private school, are we going to be able to afford this?’ But Brown made that commitment to meeting 100% of demonstrated need. Brown actually exceeded our expectations. One of the foremost reasons I chose Brown was because of its competitive financial aid package."
AYLA KIM, Sophomore
For Brown sophomore Timmy Lake, whose family is sending four children to college, Brown’s financial aid package made his college decision possible.
“The liberty of graduating loan-free was the most important factor in my decision to attend Brown,” said Lake, who is double-concentrating in science, technology and society, and Hispanic studies. “Being able to bypass loans completely has been an enormous benefit to me. Brown was different than any other institution I was accepted to, by providing for its students in the way that it does.”
Fellow sophomore Ayla Kim, who is considering a double-concentration in behavioral decision sciences and economics, describes the Brown Promise as “liberating and empowering,” noting that it made it possible for her to attend her top-choice school.
“My family was hesitant because they thought at first: ‘It’s an Ivy, it’s a private school, are we going to be able to afford this?’” Kim said. “But Brown made that commitment to meeting 100% of demonstrated need. Brown actually exceeded our expectations. One of the foremost reasons I chose Brown was because of its competitive financial aid package.”
Boosting enrollment of moderate-income students
Since the introduction of the Brown Promise, the number of applications and enrolled undergraduates from moderate-income backgrounds has risen each year. In the 2017-18 academic year, 54% of incoming first-year undergraduates came from moderate-income households; by 2022-23, it had surged to 67%.
Concurrently, the University has seen a precipitous drop — 56% between 2017-18 and 2022-23 — in the number of students who take out loans, which they can still choose to do to cover other expenses even after Brown has met full demonstrated need. Prior to the Brown Promise, financial aid packages may have included federal and Brown institutional student loans. Brown does not offer aid based on academic achievement or any other form of merit, determining financial aid solely on need.
"Making Brown an affordable choice for extraordinarily talented students from every income level is nothing short of transformational."
CHRISTINA H. PAXSON, Brown University President
Logan Powell, associate provost for enrollment and dean of undergraduate admission, says the trends demonstrate that by supporting students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the University is alleviating concerns about debt and helping to break down barriers for talented students who may otherwise hesitate to apply to Brown, much less attend.
“Our financial aid methodology is one of the largest drivers of changes in applicant volume and the composition of the applicant pool,” Powell said. “The Brown Promise sends a clear signal to families about our commitment to affordability and access to students from all income backgrounds. Brown is now attracting families who in the past might not have imagined that Brown would be accessible.”
In the 2022-23 academic year, 58% of aided undergraduates benefited from the Brown Promise. As the University marks the milestone of permanently funding the initiative, Powell noted that it is one among a wide range of investments in financial aid to ensure that admitted students and families make the decision to enroll at Brown based on academic fit and opportunity, not financial considerations. The annual University financial aid budget, which now tops $170 million, covers full tuition for families earning $125,000 or less with typical assets. For students from families making less than $60,000 a year with typical assets, scholarships cover all expenses, including tuition, room, board, books and more.
“The changes that we’ve been able to make in our financial aid policies have truly made Brown more affordable,” Powell said. “The Brown Promise is creating opportunity for greater economic diversity among students. The ability to lower the cost of higher education for thousands of families is incredibly meaningful.”
Dedicated donors make campus-wide impact
Over the course of fundraising, approximately 7,200 donors supported the Brown Promise through nearly $126 million in current use and endowed gifts of all sizes, surpassing the goal by nearly $6 million, demonstrating the power of giving at all levels, and showing a remarkable commitment to Brown’s mission and its students.
“Support for the Brown Promise from alumni, parents and friends has been truly remarkable,” said Senior Vice President for Advancement Sergio Gonzalez. “This generosity will have far-reaching impacts through the extraordinary students who will be able to come to Brown and whose innovation and leadership will change the world.”
The many thousands of donors were inspired to support the Brown Promise for a multitude of reasons, Gonzalez said. He noted, as one example, that a couple who made the final major commitment to the initiative was moved by the legacy of their grandmothers, who were staunch believers in the power of education and the opportunities provided by financial aid to make college as accessible and affordable as possible.
The Brown Promise fundraising effortis part of the $4 billion BrownTogethercampaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in Brown’s history. BrownTogether includes an overall $500 million goal for undergraduate financial aid, which has also enabled measures such as the elimination of the consideration of a family’s home equity as an asset when calculating a student’s available financial resources, which typically translates to thousands of additional dollars in a student’s scholarship aid.
"The Brown Promise sends a clear signal to families about our commitment to affordability and access to students from all income backgrounds. Brown is now attracting families who in the past might not have imagined that Brown would be accessible."
LOGAN POWELL, Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Undergraduate Admission
Additionally, Brown set the goal of becoming fully need-blind for international students starting with the Class of 2029, who will begin at Brown in Fall 2025. Through generous donor support, the University has already raised over $3.6 billion of the overall $4 billion BrownTogether goal, which is expected to be met by the end of 2024.
Class of 1990 Brown graduate Theresia Gouw, the Brown Corporation’s treasurer and a BrownTogether campaign co-chair along with Joan Sorensen and Ralph Rosenberg, understands the lifelong impact that an initiative like the Brown Promise can make.
“As a first-generation immigrant student whose dream was to attend Brown, my experience was made possible by financial aid, and the Brown Promise will now give future generations of exceptional students from all socioeconomic backgrounds that same opportunity,” Gouw said. “The Brown Promise expands access to a Brown education, particularly for talented and bright students of moderate-income families.”
In addition to expanding access to a Brown education, robust financial aid can transform students’ experiences on campus, Gouw noted.
“Having less worry about accruing loan debt enables these students greater focus toward academics and to pursue interests that are meaningful to them and the larger Brown community,” she said.
Supporting communities, expanding opportunities
Replacing University-packaged loans with scholarship funds that do not have to be repaid is giving students more freedom to pursue fulfilling, high-impact lives and careers rather than ones designed to repay loans, Powell said.
“It’s transformative in the sense that it allows students to make academic choices and career choices without the burden of debt,” he said.
For sophomore Sam Walhout from Wheaton, Illinois, who is planning to declare a joint concentration in computer science and economics, the Brown Promise has provided the freedom to think about pursuing an advanced
degree.“If I had to spend decades of my life paying off undergraduate loans, law school or graduate school would be completely off the table,” Walhout said. “It will be a huge weight off my shoulders. Not having loans will offer me the freedom to do whatever I want, as opposed to being chained to a job that I might not be happy with.”
By providing the endowed funds to make the Brown Promise permanent, donors have ensured that Brown will uphold and value socioeconomic difference. Walhout hopes to see socioeconomic diversity on campus continue to increase, spurred in part by Brown’s financial aid initiatives.
“I really enjoy conversations with people from different backgrounds who are benefiting from the same financial aid pool as me,” said Walhout, the youngest of four children and the son of educators. “Those conversations have led to some of the most interesting connections I’ve made on campus.”
The Brown Promise, now funded in perpetuity, will enable Brown to continue to bring the most talented minds from a diversity of backgrounds to College Hill.
“College students learn about the world through interactions with other members of the campus community, and the conversations and debates that occur in classrooms and residence halls are enriched when students represent a full range of experiences, perspectives and ideas,” Paxson said. “Socioeconomic diversity is essential for sustaining academic excellence at Brown, and we’re grateful to have reached this milestone.”
This story was originally published by Brown University on March 23, 2023.