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BU to boost financial aid to incoming students with family finances ravaged by pandemic, but will also freeze staff hiring and new capital projects

Boston University President Robert Brown announced today the school will boost financial aid by some $37 million for the coming school year so it can meet "the full demonstrated financial need of all domestic first-time undergraduate students," for the first time, to ensure that BU is "accessible to a greater number of talented and ambitious students" even in what is likely to be a coronavirus-fueled recession.

But in announcing the news, in a memo to BU professors and staff, Brown added that the same financial pressures that will make it harder for families to afford BU will also hit the university, especially with that commitment to increase student aid an estimated 13.5% to $327 million for the next school year.

Even before the full impacts of Covid-19 become obvious, "It is clear that we will need to be more agile than usual to adjust to changing external conditions," Brown wrote:

To be prudent, we have frozen staff hiring and the initiation of any new capital projects until a clearer picture emerges of the impact of the virus on new admissions and retention of our students. Both of these decisions have been implemented to build financial reserves that could be used to bridge losses in revenue caused either by continuing closure, missing enrollment targets, or by increased demand for student financial aid due to job loss and loss of assets caused by the pandemic.

We also have established a committee reporting to the President to analyze the potential revenue impacts and possible levers for expense savings for the changing enrollment scenarios involving our spring, summer, and potentially fall semesters in 2020.

Previously announced projects, which include a new Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences, the filling of some faculty vacancies and the rollout of a new "student information services" system will, however, continue, he wrote.

PDF icon Complete text of Brown's letter73.19 KB


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But I'm interested in how they determine the "demonstrated financial need" when they're using 2019 tax returns to determined expected family contribution? Maybe they'll be a some sort of appeal to allow people to use 2020 tax returns, or maybe they'll extend their Feb 1 financial aid filing.

Both are possible.

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They don’t need to have three associate deans for every major, plenty of adminstrative fat to trim at these universities.

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That's a great idea. I wish more universities would prioritize affordability over giant construction projects.

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This really speaks to the sorry state of private American higher education today: colleges charging extreme price tags in the first place, and then "offering aid" to lower the price so that they actually get students attending. In other words, colleges are actively playing a savior role even though they know they'll only get half-filled classrooms if they charged full price.

Also, it's important to point out that "full demonstrated need" is up for interpretation - by the school's financial aid office. This often puts quite a few lower- and middle-class families into the red, since there's no single methodology that works well for every situation.

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Price tags are high so they can charge that full price to the wealthy who want their kids to go there and are able to pay the full tuition. Then that money partly goes to subsidize the tuitions of other students who can't pay the full price. If they simply charged a lot less they'd still get full classrooms but without being able to fund as many scholarships etc.

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