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Brown University
Mike Cohea—Brown University

The number of "no-loan" colleges just increased again.

After raising $30 million in less than three months, Brown University announced last week that it will remove student loans from its financial aid packages, replacing them with grants.

In doing so, Brown joins a group of about 20 elite, wealthy institutions that have implemented no-loan policies for all students—a move that helps the colleges recruit from lower-income populations while keeping all students from borrowing too much. (About a dozen other colleges have similar policies that are reserved for lower income families.)

Such policies gained popularity about a decade ago. Since then some colleges, such including Claremont McKenna and Williams, have scaled back their promises, while others like Northwestern have come on board more recently.

Like many financial aid terms, “no-loan” can be misleading. The policies essentially mean that qualifying students aren’t expected to borrow: The college will aim to cover each family's "demonstrated financial need"—the amount of money it determines your family needs, based on information collected through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and CSS Profile—with a financial aid package that features grants instead of loans, along with work-study aid, parental contributions and other elements.

But the programs don't actually bar students from borrowing, and indeed, many may do so to pay college bills. If a college has determined that your family can afford to pay $10,000 a year, for instance, but you can only manage $5,000 through savings and current income, then you’d likely have to borrow to make up the gap.

Likewise, most colleges require students to pay a small portion from their own savings or a summer job, on top of the expected parental contribution. Duke, for example, requires a student contribution of $2,600.

Nonetheless, borrowing at colleges with no-loan policies is far less common than average. Nationally about seven in 10 students borrow for college, while the share of students taking out federal loans at no loan colleges ranges from 5% at Harvard and Princeton universities to 26% at Columbia University.

And the median federal student debt for graduates of those colleges is about $14,000, according to the College Scorecard. That’s less than half the national average.

The following 32 colleges all have no-loan practices; links on each school's name lead to more information about its policy, where available. Unless noted, there are no income cutoffs to qualify.

One note: Many other colleges have limited loan replacement policies for students from a certain geographic area who meet income cutoffs. That list includes Michigan State University, Sacred Heart University and the University of Vermont. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which also doesn’t list loans on its financial aid award letters, is not on the list above because it requires a $3,400 "self-help" portion, in addition to the normal student contribution, which is often covered through loans.

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