University News

The Brown Promise
All financial aid packages Brown offers students will be loan free. Can alumni help fund it?

By Christina Paxson / November/December 2017
November 3rd, 2017

College is a truly defining experience, unparalleled in how it prepares students to realize their full potential. The Brown Promise, an historic initiative launched this fall to eliminate loans from the financial aid packages of all domestic and international students starting in the academic year 2018-19, aims to help them get there. 

Peter Goldberg
Aspiring middle school teacher Meghan Mozeaa '19.

In September, a new class of brilliant young people from around the world arrived on College Hill with dreams and passions in tow. Brown, they decided, offered educational opportunities that would enable them to bring their dreams and passions to life.

Other brilliant students were admitted to the Class of 2021 but did not arrive—because of limits.  Among them were two applicants whose stories underscore how important it is to make Brown accessible regardless of economic need.

One was a high-achieving valedictorian who aspired to study computer science and linguistics and whose parents work in the nonprofit and public education sectors. The other was a first-generation college applicant, also a valedictorian, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Asia in the late-1970s.

Both embodied the qualities we want to see in Brown students—brilliance, creativity, and a desire to make a difference in the world. And both had chosen Brown. In light of their families’ economic circumstances, however, both declined our admission offer, which could not compete with those of universities able to put together more generous financial aid packages, specifically those that did not include loans.

The Brown Promise is inspired by students like these, who want unfettered access to the exceptional education Brown offers, and who want to be empowered to make unfettered decisions about their futures while at Brown. The Brown Promise is about attracting outstanding applicants—talented academics, star athletes, accomplished artists, and engaged community leaders—eager to tap Brown’s opportunity-rich environment but wary of graduating with a debt burden that limits their options. It is about the unique perspectives these students bring to Brown. Their voices enrich our community by strengthening the diversity that breeds collaboration and innovation around the challenging issues of our time. 

But perhaps most powerfully, the Brown Promise is about ensuring that students will go on to lead lives of purpose, doing what they love. Embedded in the intellectual history of Brown University, and first articulated by its fourth president, Francis Wayland, is the notion that students should be able to “study what they choose, all that they choose, and nothing but what they choose.” Without overly parsing President Wayland’s words, it is while they are in college that students begin to make distinctions about what is meaningful to them and zero in on what they love.  

And students do tell me that they are finding what they love while they are at Brown, and they express the hope that they can keep doing what they love after they graduate, without loan repayment concerns influencing their job options or graduate school plans. Since we launched the Brown Promise, we have asked such students what the move to eliminate loans would mean for them. What we keep hearing is that the Brown Promise would clear the pathway to career choices that are personally meaningful. 

For Meghan Mozea ’19, it means following her passion to become a middle school history teacher; another student dreams of being a pediatric oncologist or neurologist. A third observes that students who don’t have to pay back loans are freer to “explore things they’ve never tried.” One student even made my heart skip a beat when he wistfully imagined that in a world without debt, he would “feel like I could fly!”

Passion.  Freedom.  Exploration.  Love.  Flying.  When Brown students speak this way about their college journeys, I am inspired to make good on the Brown Promise.

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Related Issue
November/December 2017