Disbursing federal COVID student aid funding

March 1, 2021

Sent Friday, February 26, 2021

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

I write today with details on new measures of support for students with demonstrated financial need. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in campus operations in March 2020, the University has made it a priority to support our students and families contending with the unexpected financial consequences of this global health emergency. It is the University’s responsibility to do our very best to ensure that all students, regardless of their financial circumstances, have the resources and support they need to access the wide range of educational opportunities we offer at Brown.

But we haven’t always been as clear in our communication as we could be, especially when sharing the many ways we are supporting our students and the decisions we make that impact students in very real ways. Understandably, some students have raised questions about Brown’s commitment to doing all we can to support them, particularly because of a lengthy timeline for distributing federal student relief funds that Brown was awarded in April and December 2020. I apologize for this lack of communication and the concern it has created for some of our students.

It’s also important to admit that, as a University, we often focus so much on the “doing” that we don’t always get it right when it comes to engaging with our community, and we should continue to work together with students and improve our outreach and communications. Brown remains steadfast in our commitment to supporting students with the greatest need, and I hope that the information provided here is helpful in making clear how we act on that commitment.

During the week of March 8, 2021, Brown will begin the process of distributing $5.4 million in funding to eligible undergraduate, graduate and medical students. Of that total, $4.8 million comes from the federal government as part of two COVID-19 economic relief programs, namely, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). International students and students on leave at the time that we begin distributing the funds are ineligible to receive these federal funds under government rules. Therefore, Brown will supplement the $4.8 million in federal money with an additional $550,000 in University funding to ensure that all students enrolled in 2020-21 meeting eligibility requirements of demonstrated financial need are treated equitably. 

The total $5.4 million will be distributed to approximately 3,500 students at Brown. Federal relief programs require that students receiving these funds use them to cover specific components of the cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arose due to coronavirus.  Eligible expenses include food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and childcare. The funds will be distributed to all undergraduate and medical students receiving Brown need-based scholarships as well as master’s degree students who receive federal loans.

To determine the most equitable model for distributing the total funding to eligible students, we convened a group of students, faculty and staff to develop and consider several options, all within the parameters established by the federal relief programs. We knew it was essential to include students in this process, and the consensus of the group was to base distributions on student financial aid profiles, including parent contribution levels for undergraduate students. This decision aligns with Brown’s overall approach to financial aid in which the University provides the most financial assistance to those with the greatest financial need.

Awards for undergraduates will range from a maximum of $3,000 for students with a $0 parent contribution (those with the greatest demonstrated need) to a minimum award of $500 — with all award determinations based exclusively on eligible financial need. Awards of $1,000 will be granted to eligible medical school and master’s degree students who completed a FAFSA and receive Brown need-based scholarship, a federal loan or both in the current academic year.

As the University moves to distribute funds, eligible students will receive a communication directly from Student Financial Services prior to March 8 with further details. A resource answering frequently asked questions is being developed to ensure that the path to accessing the funds is clear. We expect to begin posting funds directly to student accounts the week of March 8, processing them as electronic refunds to make it easy for students to access them. Students can spend the funds in the ways most helpful to them, as long as they are used toward eligible expenses.

Regarding the delay in distributing federal funds:

I would like to address the questions raised by some students about Brown’s timeline for distributing CARES Act and CRRSAA funds. Brown applied for and was awarded $2.4 million in funding in April 2020, and CRRSAA provided a notice of an additional $2.4 million in December 2020.  We were cautious in finalizing our approach to disbursing the awarded funds due to provisions in the laws specifically related to the employment of University personnel. While our commitment to avoiding layoffs to the best extent practicable has been in place since the pandemic’s earliest days, the duration of the pandemic and its potential implications of COVID-19 on Brown finances were impossible to predict with absolute certainty.

Every higher education institution accepting the federal funds established timelines for distribution aligned with their distinct circumstances. Now, as Brown nears the last quarter of Fiscal Year 2021 with clearer budget projections and with the expectation that we can avoid layoffs for the foreseeable future, we’re able to move forward confidently in disbursing the aid funds.

It’s important to note that, given the need to proceed cautiously regarding the federal funding, and recognizing the needs of our students, the University has provided approximately $7.3 million in COVID-related direct support to students from its own budget since the onset of the pandemic. This support came in the form of summer earning waivers, student payroll funds for student employment that could not be completed remotely, travel grants, emergency E-Gap requests, and additional financial aid dollars for families with greater need.

Brown also provided nearly $10 million in indirect support for students studying in Providence by committing to single-occupancy rooms and providing PPE to ensure the safety of our student community in Rhode Island, and has already provided $9.5 million dollars of financial aid to support the housing and meals of students studying remotely outside of the Providence area — an investment in remote support that Brown chose to make, distinct from some peers. 

From the start of this pandemic, we have remained focused on easing the challenges arising from this global crisis for all members of our community. We certainly could have done a better job communicating our decisions and actions as they unfolded. But please know that supporting our students in their educational journey is central to the work we do every day.


Provost Richard M. Locke