Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Why Colleges Are Rethinking the Concept of Merit Aid

January 12, 2015
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Why Colleges Are Rethinking the Concept of Merit Aid
Tulane University provides the highest amount of merit-based funding to students, with 37 percent of their total grants going to merit aid. Chris Graythen/Getty Images
One school finds that more students receive assistance when you eliminate it.

As high school seniors across the country go through the intensive process of applying to colleges, they — and their parents — are often puzzled by the college financial aid packages that are doled out. That’s because there’s a very small window between qualifying for need-based aid and having too much income (and thus, be disqualified).

As a result, students that are not near enough to the poverty line depend upon merit-based aid — something that many colleges utilize to recruit high-achieving academic stars who are likely to perform extremely well in school.

In sharp contrast, however, is Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., which has decided to take a different approach. A few years ago, the school made the controversial decision to end all merit-based need and instead expand the pool of funds available to students with financial need (which has increased from 37 percent in 2008 to 57 percent this year), reports the Washington Post.

The school felt that their use of merit-based aid wasn’t improving the reputation and prominence of the school, so it began focusing on recruiting the best candidates for the school — regardless of their financial status.

The results have been promising — the university ranked in the top 40 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Additionally, the college’s test scores have remained consistent, while the percentage of freshman with high financial need has increased drastically.

Michelle Bailey, a sophomore attending Franklin & Marshall, qualified for need-based aid and currently pays $5,000 a year, in addition to a few thousand dollars towards a few student loans. She calls her situation a “fantastic package” and believes that her family would not have been able to swing a higher tuition cost.

“Not impossible. But I don’t know what we would have done.”

MORE: Ask the Experts: How Can We Keep From Drowning in College Debt?

 

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