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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Britt Scholarship yields both excitement and concerns about aid equity

Following the scholarship’s announcement, students look forward to financial relief but express concern over the number of qualifying students.

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On March 25, College President Sian Leah Beilock announced a “renewed focus on middle-income families” in the financial aid process — made possible by the recently-announced Britt Scholarship, a bequest of more than $150 million dedicated to financial aid. The donation marks the largest scholarship gift in College history. 

According to Beilock’s email to campus, students with a family income less than $125,000 with typical assets will no longer have to provide a parent tuition contribution, starting in fall 2024; the previous threshold was $65,000. The Britt Scholarship will provide annual relief for approximately 350 families across all four undergraduate classes, according to Dartmouth News. 

Nina Bouche ’27, who said she believes she will qualify for the Britt Scholarship, said that her father was “excited” by the news. She said she considered transferring colleges prior to the scholarship announcement as a result of tuition costs.

“I was crying [when I found out] because that’s how meaningful it is to know that you can actually go to the school that you’ve wanted to go to for so long,” Bouche said.

Bouche expressed concern, however, with “typical assets” influencing the parent contribution threshold. Bouche said that her father’s employment as an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College means he does not have a traditional retirement plan. Instead, Bouche said her family has savings for retirement that the College considers an asset. 

“We explained to [the College] that this money exists, and it’s so we don’t starve when we can’t work anymore,” Bouche said. “But in the eyes of the [College], it’s an asset that … can go into the pockets of the [College].”

In an email statement to The Dartmouth, David Zhu ’27 — who will not be affected by the scholarship — wrote that he would have expected the total number of impacted students to be greater.

“I was a little surprised that this only affected about 350 people on campus,” Zhu said. “[It] speaks a lot to how dominated the student body is by people whose families have incomes in the top 1%. … This is a great change, but Dartmouth and other private colleges could really do more.”

Bouche also said elite institutions see disproportionately small representation of middle-income students. 

“We’re the underdog for Dartmouth, [but] we’re not the underdog for the United States,” Bouche said. “I think that [middle-income families] are a very underrepresented group in higher education.”

According to a study by Opportunity Insights — a group of economists studying inequality at Harvard University — prospective students from households earning $80,000 to $150,000 with comparable scores to current students are gaining admission to elite colleges at the lowest rates of any income group. 

First Generation Office community engagement student director Jackelinne Claros Benitez ’24 — who also serves as a QuestBridge Liaison — said several developments in higher education point to an increased focus on middle-class families. She cited the Britt Scholarship, the elimination of affirmative action in 2023 through Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and the reinstatement of the standardized testing requirement in admissions. 

While Benitez said she supports the financial relief for these families, she also said low-income families are not receiving adequate financial support from the College.

“I feel as though low-income families should have been prioritized,” Benitez said. “That’s not to say that middle-class families don’t go through struggles or adversities, but they have more resources than those making less than $65,000 … Families who were within the original threshold should have been provided with more stability before moving onto the next demographic.” 

Benitez suggested the College introduce several initiatives, including allowing low-income students to access barrier removal funds more than once per academic year, subsidizing the costs of textbooks and increasing the number of counselors with first-generation low-income identities. 

Benitez and Bouche also acknowledged that a student’s financial situation may be influenced by cost of living differences — not just family income.

“It matters if you live in the middle of nowhere or if you live in New York — there’s a cost difference,” Bouche said. “So you’re going to need to make different amounts of money to just get by, and I don’t know if [the College] take[s] that into consideration.”

According to Marshall Carey-Matthews ’27 — who said he believes his family income will qualify him as a beneficiary of the Britt Scholarship — location will influence the evaluation process due to home prices. He explained that location can affect the value of a family’s home, and “typical assets” are a factor in qualifying for the program. 

“I’m really interested to know what they’ll end up meaning by typical assets because it’s always very worrisome to hear a statement that qualifies whether you will be given a reasonable amount of money,” Carey-Matthews said. “For example, with housing prices rising so fast, [is Dartmouth] going to say, ‘Well your house is a valuable enough [asset] that we don’t think you need [aid]?’”

Despite these concerns, both Bouche and Carey-Matthews expressed relief at the scholarship announcement, which will ease the financial burden of college tuition — and thus reduce the number of hours they work to afford attending the College. According to the Financial Aid Office’s website, student contributions consist of leave-term earnings, part-time work during the school year and/or a student’s savings. 

On campus, Bouche said she has three jobs: she works at Collis Tech Crew, Novack Café and as a research assistant. While Bouche said she will continue to work at Novack, she said she no longer feels “pressured” to work 15 hours a week. Carey-Matthews also expressed relief at not “worrying” as much about working during breaks to help pay for college. 

“I’m excited because I won’t have to work 60 hours a week during my breaks,” Carey-Matthews said. 

Bouche added that jobs with high hourly wages have taken priority over academic enrichment opportunities due to her expected contribution. Because of the Britt Scholarship, Bouche said she will have more “flexibility” in the future. 

“I think the prospect of going to [graduate] school not already having debt is definitely a huge factor,” Carey-Matthews said. “I kind of wanted to go to [graduate] school already, but I think that it makes it seem much more doable when I don’t have [a] looming debt.”

Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lee Coffin did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.