Willing to Wait for Cash

Citing economic downturn, Brown University loosens rules that barred students from registering for classes if they had outstanding debts.

November 4, 2008

In a move that suggests growing concerns about the state of the economy, Brown University is allowing students to register for classes regardless of debts they may own the university.

The decision, announced in a Friday e-mail, breaks from Brown’s past policy of blocking registration for students with outstanding balances of $1,000 or more.

“We recognize the economic difficulties that many of our students and their families are facing and want to do all that we can to be helpful in these challenging times,” Provost David Kertzer wrote in an e-mail.

In addition to allowing for registration regardless of outstanding balances, Brown is also loosening other restrictions to ease immediate financial burdens for students. Continuing Brown students have previously been barred from classes if they had outstanding balances of $5,000 or more, but the university will now allow students to continue with debts of up to $7,500.

Kertzer said Monday that a “small number” of students had expressed concern about paying on time, and officials decided it was appropriate to show leniency in light of the widespread impact of the current economic downturn.

“There were some cases where people clearly had run into problems as a result of what’s going on, and we thought it would be important to reach out to those families,” Kertzer said. “We are in this together.”

Brown has not lifted late fees for students who choose to postpone payments, and Kertzer said no decision has been made about whether to extend the new policies beyond this academic year.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said he expects more universities to follow Brown’s lead.

“I do think this is a sign of the times and something a number of institutions will have to think about,” Nassirian said.

As money gets tighter for students and their families, some higher education experts expect that enrollments – particularly at tuition-driven colleges with little money for aid – will decline. With its large endowment and strong reputation, Brown may be more insulated from such declines. Even so, preserving enrollment has to be on the minds of administrators everywhere, Nassirian said.

“The policy Brown has adopted -- and that many may be forced to adopt -- is as much a matter of [preserving] institutional enrollment as it is a matter of being sympathetic to students,” he said.

To help accommodate students whose financial needs may have changed, Brown has also pushed its deadline for aid applications forward by one month to Dec. 1.


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