Viet Nguyen’ 17: A student leader behind Brown’s Application Fee Waiver for Low-Income students.


Brown has made a recent proposal to automatically waive the application fee for low-income students, beginning with the class entering in fall 2018. This proposal was passed on April 14th, 2017. According to Admission Dean Logan Powell, the purpose of the change is to fee waivers more accessible to prospective students who need them most. (You can learn more about this change here).

Student voices from Brown’s low-income community played a vital role in spearheading this change. One of these voices came from Viet Nguyen ‘17, the outgoing student president for Brown’s University Council of Students (UCS).

Viet is a senior from Mountain View, California and is concentrating in Education Studies. Viet noted that the college application fee was an issue brought up several times, both during his involvement in UCS and in Brown’s first-gen community. The fact that most US colleges have application fees represented a larger systemic issue of how students are often excluded from higher-education institutions due to their financial backgrounds.

“The problem with these complex issues is that someone is always saying that it’s someone else’s responsibility. Universities are saying it’s about what high school people went to. Then high schools are saying it’s about what property taxes are being paid. So I wanted to look at what can we do right now that it’s in our jurisdiction right now that can change the demographics of our university.”

These efforts started with a student-written letter to the administration. The letter took on a more personal voice by focusing on the actual experiences of applying to college. The letter was signed by student governments from around ten different schools and around twelve first-gen student groups. The goal of sending the letter was to get Brown to be the first of many to make this change for low-income students.

After the letter, UCS partnered with First-Gens@Brown to co-write a proposal that focused on the policy aspect of the fee waiver change. Viet collaborated with First-Gens co-president, Alexis Rodriguez to send and discuss the proposal with the Provost and Dean of Admissions. In their meeting, they discussed the most effective ways to make sure low-income students are aware of this new program.

“There’s a symbolic message we’re sending to students. That low-income students have a spot at this University, and they belong here. I think that explicitly saying that low-income students will have their fees waived shows that we want them. There’s this common misconception that low-income students have that they are a burden. Things like financial aid make them feel like ‘Oh, Brown doesn’t want to waste money on us.’ But that’s just not true. Brown gets as much value having low-income students at this University as low-income students do coming here. Even at these elite institutions, if you’re talented, if you’re smart, you have a spot. Regardless of whether you can pay a 60-dollar fee.”

As a senior graduating this month, Viet also talked about making this change happen  encapsulates why he has loved going to Brown for the past four years. He explains that student-input in how the University operates has been a very empowering part of his college experience.

“I think especially here, Brown provides such a big platform for students to do great work. Students have immense say in how the university operates. We’re on every University committee, and I think that administrators know that the students have the University’s best interest at heart, and have the passion to have policies push forward. The greatest example is the open curriculum-it was started by a student, and now it’s the defining feature of Brown. I think that says a lot of how a student can change the University.”



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