Eliminating merit scholarships

Hamilton College is proud to announce it will eliminate merit scholarships for students enrolling in 2008; instead, the New York college will offer more aid on the basis of financial need.

The move won praise from educators who said they hope it will inspire other colleges to follow suit.

The decision by the small liberal arts college would affect only a few dozen students. But it comes at a time when colleges have been criticized for using their resources to lure high-achieving students — many of whom don’t need the money to attend college — thereby improving a school’s academic standing at the expense of its economic diversity.

Hamilton costs $43,890 a year for tuition, room and board. At those prices, a lot of families will qualify as needy. But I hate to see the end of the idea of merit.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    “Everyone is saying it would be great to slow this merit aid trend down, but no schools have been willing to do it,” said Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst for The College Board and professor of economics at Skidmore College.

    Using that reasoning, we should also eliminate National Merit Scholarships.

    But many schools spend millions on merit aid to lure more accomplished students.

    Yes, that is a terrible thing to do. Thank goodness with this new “scholarship” policy universities will no longer try to attract better students. Next they should eliminate better professors. Of course they have already done so in all of their “studies” departments.

  2. Based on that, I would never have been able to afford going to college. My family isn’t poor enough to qualify for need-based FA, and we aren’t rich enough to pay our own way. And loans would have been way too extreme (I did end up having to take out loans as it is).

    When will somebody realize that there *are* gradients between the rich and the poor?

  3. More evidence that there are many “educators” who do not have much respect for knowledge or for those who are serious about pursuing it.

  4. JJ: That’s the situation I was in 35 years ago – and I was a National Merit Scholarship winner, but what it paid didn’t cover much more than books, let alone make the Ivy League practical. I went to a state college for a while, then enlisted in the Air Force and eventually finished my education while in the service.

  5. well, MIT offered no merit aid because “all students would deserve it.” So maybe Hamilton feels the same way: “all of our students would marginally qualify, so why bother? We’ve already eliminated outstanding merit as a strong admission criterion, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

    I love that econ prof’s quote. More cute that he is at
    Skidmore, the school where trust fund kids go when they can’t get into Brown!

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    As the article states, the top schools– well, the Ivies, anyway– don’t offer merit scholarships, but most of the Ivies make the commitment that any student who is admitted will be offered the financial aid that he needs to attend the school. (Of course, what Yale says a student needs might not be the same as what the student says he needs.)

    I was talking to someone who works for Brown. She proudly told me that 50% of the student body got financial aid. “Wow,” I replied. “Fifty percent of the students at Brown come from families that can afford $40,000 a year? It’s a school for rich people’s children.”

    I don’t see the problem with stopping giving good students from well-to-do families merit scholarships at so-so colleges. I *do* see the problem if the most selective schools become schools for children of the rich.

  7. Is Hamilton a selective school? Merit aid is used by second (and third and fourth) tier colleges to recruit some percentage of high achievers. If Hamilton can get enough top students without merit aid (as can MIT and the top Ivies), good for them. Or if they believe they are better off without having too many high-achieving students for whom they’d have to compete financially, let them try the experiment.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    One supposed benefit to justify public support of education is the benefit to the public of having educated citizens. There seems to be no objection to merit on the football teams.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Walter, I don’t know why you’d think there’s no objection to merit on the football teams. Plenty of people oppose athletic scholarships, especially to underqualified students. I am one such, and I’m sure there are several other regular commenters who feel the same way.

  10. Indigo Warrior says:

    Some people object to merit in athletics, and of course some envious types object to any sort of merit, talent, or ability. For others, including myself, the problem is not merit.

    Sports have a monstrous dominance in schools, they suck up money and resources that could better be used for academics, and at least in some institutions, create an elite class of above-the-law criminal predators known as “jocks”.

    The Eurasian way is better – keep juvenile sports out of schools and in the hands of corporate sponsors.

  11. Let’s do the math!

    Hamilton has 1775 students. About 75 students received merit scholarships and approximately half of the rest receive aid (let’s say 850). To date they usually spent 20 million on need-based grants and 1 million on merit scholarships. Take 20 million and divide by 850 and the average need-based grant was $23,529. Now they plan to eliminate 1 million of merit-award that went to about 75 students. Let’s assume that 30 of those students have financial need. They now have 21 million dollars divided by 880 students the average need-based grant will be… $23,863.

    Wow! They feel that raising their average need-based grant by $334 or 1.4% is worth NOT recognizing outstanding academic achievement.

    Some say that financial aid should be based only on need and not at all on accomplishments. Why? You do not believe in rewarding academic accomplishments?

    I think many reading the article make the mistake of thinking that Hamilton will now be able to increase the size of the average need-based grant by 5%. The mistake is that they forget that they just increased their pool of students needing need-based aid by about 4% (the percent that used to receive merit scholarships).

    I am deeply disappointed that Hamilton has completely abandoned rewarding high academic achievement through merit scholarships.