Does the dissemination of merit scholarships equate to the purchasing of high quality students in order to increase a college's standing in the U.S. News & World Report rankings? According to former Major League Baseball Commissioner and multiple college Board of Trustees member Fay Vincent, the answer is yes--and it is ruining educational equality in America. Vincent was the recipient of a need-based scholarship for his collegiate education. But today, far too many schools are awarding a significant percentage of scholarship money strictly on merit, with no preference given or even considered for those who may need the aid--in essence schools are subsidizing the rich in order to obtain an increase in prestige that may be short-lived.
Over the last few decades, an increasing number [of colleges and universities] have been offering significant aid based only on merit, without regard to a family's resources. In pursuit of class averages that will support a strong national ranking, these schools are essentially buying better students...As a trustee at several institutions of higher education, I watched this development with dismay. To my mind, merit-based aid betrays the original goal of helping worthy but disadvantaged students; it spends donors' money in a way they may not intend, and it invests college resources in short-term promotional advantage instead of lasting improvements of substance.
Vincent is calling them like he sees them and he is probably right. Now, as a fundamental matter, I have not objection to merit scholarships. I think students should be rewarded by a school they will attend for their hard work. But Vincent argues that those with means are doubly advantaged in the race for merit scholarships.
The original goal of financial aid was to level the playing field for students with the ability but not the means to pursue higher education. But the very board scores that help to trigger today's merit awards are partly generated by income. So the high-income student is twice privileged -- once in affording the better schools or special tutoring that help get the high scores, and then in getting a financial award.
Vincent goes on to decry the market approach taken by most colleges due to the U.S. News rankings. Because schools are intent on maintaining a ranking in a survey most label and trivial and misleading, schools will do their best to improve the stats of their incoming class. Thus students with need who are more average than rich kids with high academic credentials are often passed over in order to pad the schools selectivity score or academic rigor scores, thus becoming more appealing. But building a better student body is, according to Vincent, a poor way to improve the school. Vincent argues that they best method is to build a better faculty and perhaps facility.
Vincent concludes: I am troubled by the use of financial inducements to sway a student's decision. In contrast, there is something noble about giving money to talented young people who could not pursue their education without it. I know what that gift can accomplish, and I am grateful. I wonder how grateful the recipients of merit aid will be.
I wonder too.
I also wonder if there is a better way to merit scholarships. To be sure, the use of merit scholarships to students whose family has ample resources for tuition seems to be a waste of funds. What is particularly galling is that in some cases, that merit scholarship is truly a waste of money. Regardless of their academic preparation in high school, a given percentage of students cannot replicate their high school success in college. Whether the self-discipline is lacking or the environment is too full of temptation, some students on merti scholarship waste the money by doing poorly.
I suggest that all merit scholarships awarded by any college or university be based on academic work in college. Thus, no merit scholarship is awarded without at least one year of college work. Thus, funds will not be wasted one students unable to perform in a collegiate atmosphere. Similarly, such a program will free up funds for need-based aid for the incoming class.
Just a thought.
No Merit in These Scholarships