Brown to cover textbook costs for more than 1,100 students

After a successful pilot with high-need students, Brown will expand textbook and course materials program to first-year students receiving University scholarship funds and undergraduates who have a $0 parent contribution.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — One year ago, following a 10-year period in which enrollment by undergraduates from families with incomes below $60,000 grew by more than 200 percent, Brown University launched a pilot program to cover textbook and course material costs for first-year students with the highest financial need.

For the 2019-20 academic year, Brown will expand the pilot from 85 students to approximately 1,100 — first-year students who receive University scholarship funds as part of their financial aid packages and enrolled undergraduates from all class years who have a $0 parent contribution, as determined by the financial aid office. Students will have all required textbook and course material costs covered via a simple swipe of their Brown ID card at the Brown Bookstore.

The expansion follows the program’s successful implementation in year one and near-universal reports from initial participants of high academic engagement.

“This program gave me the freedom to choose classes without concern of financial strain,” said one student in response to a survey that asked participants to evaluate the impact of the pilot program.

“I had all my materials in the first three days of class, so I was able to immediately focus on using the materials, rather than acquiring them...” said another. “Being able to use my card to purchase physical copies of my materials allowed me to study and learn in the way that is best for me and helped me to achieve success in my classes.”

“Without this program, I would be scrambling to find readings online or in the libraries, which takes time and effort better spent devoted to the work itself,” another student said.

Rashid Zia, dean of the College at Brown, said that the University is committed to attracting talented, high-achieving students from every socioeconomic background — and that providing every student with the ability to take full advantage of Brown’s distinctive Open Curriculum is essential. 

“For first-year students and students with high financial need, securing course materials at the start of the semester can pose unnecessary barriers to academic engagement,” Zia said. “We want to ensure that every student has the opportunity to fully access Brown’s Open Curriculum from the moment they arrive on campus.”

Textbook costs vary but can cost $1,300 or more per year, according to Brown’s financial aid office.

Vernicia Elie, assistant dean of the College for financial advising, said that the textbook pilot had a significant positive impact on the participating students’ sense of inclusion, both in the classroom and in the greater Brown community.

“What was salient for me is that students reported feeling confident when shopping classes,” Elie said. “They have an opportunity to participate in Brown’s Open Curriculum and explore courses to their heart’s content. What happens otherwise, all over the country and here at Brown, is that students often choose courses based on cost or come to class without materials to prepare them. That creates anxieties in the classroom and affects relationships with professors. This program enabled students to feel confident from the very beginning.”

The extension of the textbook pilot will ensure that experience for a significantly expanded number of students.

“Students will be able to focus energy on figuring out whether or not they want to be in a class based on its content and their own engagement, rather than based on cost,” Elie said. “And especially for first-year students, time should be spent on learning, making friends, joining organizations — if you’re running around trying to find books, that takes away from your ability to engage with others and feel more connected in the community.”

University Provost Richard M. Locke said that students with high financial need face a wide range of challenges in starting a college experience. The expanded pilot program for textbooks and course materials complements a growing array of Brown initiatives aimed at enrolling and supporting students from low-income families.

“We are fortunate to attract talented students to Brown with a wide range of experiences and perspectives,” Locke said. “We are committed to ensuring that once here, all students — regardless of socioeconomic circumstance —  have equitable opportunities to take full advantage of their Brown education and contribute in meaningful ways to our educational community.”

The number of Brown students from low-income families has grown significantly in recent years. That started in 2003 when the University implemented a need-blind undergraduate admission process for U.S. applicants, meaning inability to pay toward the cost of attendance does not impact Brown’s admissions decisions. The University meets the full demonstrated financial need of all enrolled undergraduates and beginning in the current 2018-19 academic year, replaced loans with scholarship funds in all University-packaged financial aid awards through The Brown Promise initiative.

In 2017, Brown joined the American Talent Initiative, an alliance working to expand access for talented students from low-income families, began to automatically waive the application fee for low-income students, and opened one of the country’s first dedicated centers for first-generation and low-income students.

The University also offers funding to assist income-eligible students with health insurance, travel, food and housing during spring and winter recess, and emergency funding to cover urgent, unanticipated non-academic needs such as health and medical care costs and copays, travel costs related to medical emergencies or death in their immediate family, and winter clothing.

The expanded textbook pilot will apply to all students in the defined groups — first-year students who receive University scholarship, undergraduates with a $0 parent contribution — with the exception of two small cohorts of students who already receive funding for books and other course materials.