Brown to cover the textbook bill for 1,100 students next fall

Brown University campus
BROWN UNIVERSITY is dramatically expanding a financial-aid program in which it will cover the costs of textbooks and course materials for the most needy students next fall. / COURTESY BROWN UNIVERSITY

PROVIDENCE – Brown University says it’s going to cover the cost of all textbooks and course materials for 1,100 of its most needy students starting next fall, a dramatic expansion of a pilot financial-aid program that helped 85 students this year.

The university said textbooks and other materials can cost a student $1,300 or more each year. Based on that figure and the number of students who will be covered, the program would have an overall cost of more than $1.4 million, but Brown officials do not immediately respond to an email message Wednesday seeking to confirm that amount.

First-year students who receive scholarship funds as part of their financial-aid packages and enrolled undergraduates from all class years who have no contribution from their parents are eligible for the textbook aid, Brown said.

Participating students will have all textbook and course material costs covered via a swipe of their Brown ID card at the Brown Bookstore.

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“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,” Rashid Zia, dean of the college at Brown, said in a statement. “We want to ensure that every student has the opportunity to fully access Brown’s Open Curriculum from the moment they arrive on campus.”

The university said the number of students from low-income families has grown significantly in recent years, citing Brown’s switch to a “need-blind” admission process for United States applicants in 2003. That means a student’s ability to pay tuition was not a factor in admission decisions.

Brown meets the full financial need of undergraduates. This academic year, the school replaced loans with scholarships and grants that don’t need repayment in the university aid packages.

The university said that the decision to expand the textbook program followed a successful pilot year.

“What was salient for me is that students reported feeling confident when shopping classes,” said Vernicia Elie, assistant dean of the college for financial advising. “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.”

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