Merit-based scholarships under scrutiny

March 26, 2013

A new approach to scholarships and financial aid for college is in the works. By diminishing the prevalence of merit-based scholarships, many experts believe that overall tuition costs may decrease, allowing students from a wider range of income brackets to enter school. 

A pact for change
According to NPR, many schools offer large sums of money for college in order to lure the best students. Certain colleges are making moves to curb these big merit-based scholarships from over-pricing college education for students on the whole. 

At the 2013 Council of Independent Colleges' annual Presidents Institute in Palm Harbor, Florida, a group of private college presidents made strides to tone down merit-based scholarships and implement more awards based on need. 

The college presidents put forth a document titled "High Tuition/High Discount Has no Future" to put these steps into action. One measure proposed is to discontinue terminology such as "merit aid" in college literature.

The group also cites a type of bidding war common at some schools. When several colleges want a certain highly adept student, they often will compete by upping the ante of their merit-based scholarships. Needless to say, this can be a pricey practice.

New implementations
"We believe that 'discounting' has led to an allocation of financial aid resources that is neither efficient nor just and has contributed to the rising cost of higher education," the group put forth in a statement on the study. The discounting mentioned is that of merit-based scholarships. Kenyon College, according to NPR, is an example of an institution dedicated to abandoning the practice of granting such awards.

S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon, who attended the meeting in Florida, spoke to NPR about the predicament surrounding financial aid. 

"This is not a healthy situation if what we are trying to do is utilize the limited resources that we have to educate students," Nugent said.

The enrollment dilemma
Merit-based scholarships may have actually caused a drop in enrollment in many schools, especially among minorities and those with low incomes. This is suggested by a 2012 survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The findings show the number of students who enrolled in a study group of schools either plateauing or decreasing despite a rise in discount rates.

The data from the NACUBO shows that those who need money for school might have a difficult time enrolling due to the current allocation of funds to merit-based awards. If more money went to need-based scholarships, this enrollment rate could increase.

Change may be on the horizon as college presidents begin to spearhead more inclusive financial aid, making applying for a scholarship a more balanced process.

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