Should colleges continue to give merit scholarships to rich students?
The vast majority of colleges and universities in this country dispense money to rich kids through merit scholarships or grants. The higher-ed world isn’t proud of this practice, but it’s pervasive.
I ended up talking about this phenomenon this weekend when I was visiting my daughter Caitlin, who is a senior at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA. My husband and I were in attendance for senior day for the women’s soccer team, which was playing Catholic University. My daughter is a forward and leading scorer on the team.
I was chatting with the mom of one of Caitlin’s teammates, who happens to be a professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. She was telling me that the F&M is focused on ending merit scholarships for well-off students and instead reserving its money to students who truly need financial assistance. The mom observed that affluent parents wouldn’t like this policy, but that it’s the right thing to do and would lead to a better student body.
I mentioned the conversation on Sunday morning with Tom Kepple, Juniata’s president, who I met for coffee. We both agreed that it would be extremely hard for any college to pull this off.
Why Rich Students Get Merit Scholarships
Here’s why: The higher-ed world is one of the most competitive industries in the country. Very few parents are willing to pay full price for any college. In fact, there are only a few dozen colleges in the country that can charge full fare to affluent families. And the schools in this category are the Ivy League universities and schools that share their orbit. They can charge full price because they can get away with it.
For all other institutions, it’s a dogfight attracting promising teenagers. Rivals institutions compete by offering coveted applicants attractive financial aid and merit aid packages. If Franklin & Marshall stops giving its well-off students merit money, these kids could still qualify for money at schools like Dickinson, Muhlenberg, Ursinus, and other peer institutions.
What Should Happen to Merit Scholarships
Here’s what I’d like to see happen: Every college and university in the country would drop merit aid for affluent kids. But the schools would also simultaneously reduce their tuition. One of the reasons why tuition is high at private colleges is because they have to reserve a chunk of their tuition revenue to dispense merit money to students who don’t appear to need it. If there was no merit bait, the prices could be more reasonable for everyone.
I know in my own case, my children were not going to any school that didn’t offer them money, Colleges are way too expensive to pay full price and we couldn’t afford it anyway. My daughter got accepted to Franklin & Marshall back in 2007 and it was a school high on her list. F&M, however, didn’t give Caitlin a price break so she crossed the school off her list.
Merit Aid Prognosis
Looking forward, what are the chances that merit aid will disappear for the most fortunate college-going students?
When I asked Kepple, he laughed. Zero chance, he said.