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Financial Aid at Georgia Tech should be primarily need-based, rather than merit-based.

Class: POL 1101
Date: 4/19/05

Policy Position Paper for Spring 2005

2. Financial aid at Georgia Tech should be primarily merit-based rather than need-based.

Merit-based scholarships have been there since the rise of higher education. The goal was to attract smart students from all corners of the nation, with the view that if the university helped the student complete his course at the university, he will be able to create new jobs or bring about positive growth for the nation in some way. Thus all the ‘brains’ will be collected and properly utilized by the higher education system. The picture today is somewhat different. With thousands of universities and colleges competing against each other it has become a race between who can attract the smartest students. As a result universities are changing not only their academic curriculum but also their financial aid policy. Being an international student, when I was applying to US universities, I found out only four universities in USA offered need-blind admission to international students. Needless to say all those were the top Ivy League universities like Princeton and Yale. However majority of students in the US from poor families end up going to small liberal arts colleges and two-year colleges. Though not the sole reason for this but an important factor is the absence of need-based financial aid in top universities.
“Professor Hoxby found that in a period when college costs continued to escalate at a rate far higher than inflation, the amount of aid available to poor students remained about the same. At the same time the amount of aid available to middle and upper middle class students grew substantially” (Bidding War 3). Financial aid has helped many students go through college but in recent times the attitude of universities in giving aid has drastically changed. While merit-based financial aid seems the fair way of providing aid to smart but poor students, it more so often is the case that students from middle-income families are getting that aid. After they enroll in a college students from middle income families have a higher probability of not being able to maintain a good GPA than students from poor families because they know they will have a certain minimum standard of living after they graduate, and thus lose their merit-based financial aid. However students from middle income families might do better but the fact remains that the student would have been able to attend a university regardless if he got aid or not, but students from poor families are left out altogether if they do not get aid. Need-based financial aid sometimes gives poor students a chance to succeed. Most of the time a student gains maturity after they enter college, not in high school. As a result they become more responsible about their education and grades. In fact an average student in high school can do really well in college just because he/she has started working and studying harder. The amount of students who got scholarships when entering college and then failing to maintain good academic standing is high. A student who has always done extremely well in high school may find to difficult to even maintain a B average in college. The reason is high schools are not only overrated but there is a huge leap in responsibility and study habits between high school and college. The fact that students who had poor records in high school might try harder and succeed in college shows the validity of need-based financial aid over merit-based financial aid.
Students from every university today have to struggle to get a good job after graduation. Moreover getting a full ride at a top university is difficult even for an above average American student. Almost every student who does well in college and has a good university degree has a greater chance of getting a good job and earning more over lifetime than a high school graduate. And almost every hardworking student in college has been able to succeed in their field. However those who did succeed in college did not necessarily do well in high school or standardized testing. Sometimes students find what they like in college, since high school does not allow you to choose your own subjects. In college the freedom of choice enables students to find their own strong points and do better. Thus need-based financial aid allows all students willing to go to college to actually go there regardless of their financial situation and find their own passion in which they can succeed.
Today people are striving for equality in education and universities are told to try and increase their diversity. “In the main the data reveal that financial aid is being distributed to Hispanic students on the basis of need. The distribution system evidently is working, if the criterion is that lower income students are to receive larger aid awards” (Olivas 467). The government is trying to help students from lower-income families and minority groups so that they may earn a greater income than their parents. Merit-based financial does not achieve this goal completely. Sometimes it is even the case that poor students cannot afford private tuition and are unable to do well in standardized testing because their high school is not that competitive. While students from middle income families in the same high school can afford to get private tuition and do better in standardized testing. Georgia Tech being a state university has a greater responsibility than private universities to provide quality education to all students of Georgia regardless of their parents’ income. Thus in such a university there is more reason to give need-based financial aid over merit-based financial aid.
So far I have put forth two important points about why Georgia Tech should have need-based financial aid. First, that high school records are not an accurate source of information regarding a student’s ability to succeed in college. And second, students who are given the chance to attend college even if their high school record is not promising, might actually try harder and succeed in college. However need-based financial aid also has its drawbacks. Since more students will be getting aid the colleges might reduce their amount of aid given and thus a truly meritorious student might not get the aid he/she deserves. It also increases the chance of students from poor families slacking off more because they know they will get aid regardless of their grades in school. But I think students from poor families might actually do better because they know they have a chance of going to college and thus might be more interested in finding a subject they like which they will major on later in college. The parents will take more interest in their children’s education since they know their child will go to college whether they can pay for it or not and hopefully earn a better living than themselves. They will not be stuck in the poverty cycle.
One of the strongest grounds for need-based financial aid over merit-based financial aid is the humanity factor. “Because needy students will likely attend only institutions where they receive an aid award, Hispanic students may be dissuaded from attending private four-year colleges where aid is more readily available to wealthier students and more discretionary institutional aid awards are made” (Olivas 471). We have seen and still are seeing students who are genuinely poor are not getting the money for college and thus end up taking on low paid jobs like their parents. This creates a sense of helplessness since they know even their children and grandchildren will always be stuck in this poverty cycle, which sometimes leads to taking on a life of crime. “Indeed, there is a growing concern that merit-based scholarships are aiding students who financially need the least help” (Critical Race Theory 3). Students from poor families are continuously being left out from the government’s policies to increase the number of such students going to college. Need-based financial aid is one way the universities can help to change this.
Some elite private universities have started to adopt need-based financial aid. Even though the reason behind this change in financial aid policy is competition between the universities of getting the best students of the nation, it has many positive effects. By replacing student loans with grants the universities are attracting students from all backgrounds, especially from minority groups. “Studies show that family financial pressures are the single most important factor causing young black people to drop out of college” (Princeton 3). This is direct proof that if universities try to change their financial aid to need-based it will definitely attract smart underrepresented students because all students from poor families have to worry about whether they can continue to get the money they need to finish college.
Therefore for a university like Georgia Tech it is a sound proof that they should give need-based financial aid. Being the only top public school with such a strong engineering and science department it gives students who cannot afford to go to MIT or Stanford a chance to succeed in this field. Finally I would like to say that need-based financial aid might not necessarily attract smart students and might be on the side of students from poor families but at least it allows a student growing up with a dream achieve his/her dream, it gives hope to children and their parents in poor neighborhoods that one day they will be able to get a good job and earn a better living, and since the US is a land of immigrants it would be a great miss-justice to these minority and poor people to deny the chance of a decent standard of living which they could not get in their home country.

Works Cited

• The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. “Princeton’s Stunning Increase in Financial Aid: What About African Americans?” Spring 2001. pp. 19-21..

• The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. “The New Bidding War for High Scoring Students Causes Selective Colleges to Be Less Diverse.” Winter 2000. pp. 15-16. .

• Olivas, Michael A. “Financial Aid Packaging Policies: Access and Ideology.” The Journal of Higher Education. July 1985. pp. 462-475. .

• The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. “Merit-based Financial Aid Is Eroding the Opportunities of College-Bound Blacks.” Summer 2000. pp. 29-30. .

• Soto, Nelson E. and Lopez, Gerardo. “Critical Race Theory: The fairness of Georgia Student Financial Aid Allocation.” pp. 1-6.

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