Financial Aid at Georgia Tech Should be Primarily Need-based.
One of the most influential factors in deciding on attending a college or university is the price tag. With the average cost of tuition and fees ranging from $5,132 at a pubic four-year institution to $20,082 at a private one, students, and their parents, are relying more and more on financial aid (Topiel). To help offset these costs, many states and institutions offer a variety of scholarships to help encourage students to attend college. Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship was one of the first in the nation to award merit-based aid to Georgia students attending schools that were within the state. To some students, this can be the deciding factor whether they will attend college or not. At an institution like Georgia Tech, however, the question is not whether or not to attend; rather, it is where to attend. This flexibility is due to the fact that Georgia Tech is already an academically competitive school and most students that are accepted and matriculate have met the standards for most merit-based financial aid already. With this in mind, it is only fair to either raise the standards of merit-based assistance, or simply give additional financial aid to students based on need. The latter suggestion is much more feasible and reasonable than the former. Georgia Tech should primarily give out need-based financial aid because for several reasons. The main one being that there are already several merit-based scholarships available to most students. Also, most students that attend are already at or above average merit-based aid standards. Furthermore many equally academically prestigious institutions have already established a principally need-based system for financial assistance.
One good reason to make financial aid based primarily on need is that Georgia Tech students already have several opportunities to receive aid based on their merit. One of the best examples of this is Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship Program, which is designed to reward hardworking Georgia students. This award pays all of the tuition and most of the fees for Georgia residents attending Georgia Tech. This represents nearly all of the in-state students matriculating into Tech. At a school with academic standards as selective as Georgia Tech’s, there are few students that are accepted that do not meet the minimum 3.0 GPA required to receive the HOPE Scholarship. Another well-known scholarship is the National Merit Scholarship, which is given by the same organization that awards the National Achievement Scholarship (for African American students) and the National Hispanic Scholarship (for Hispanic American students). Although these are more selective than the HOPE scholarship, they are awarded to hundreds of the top students nationwide and these students, in turn, attend competitive universities such as Georgia Tech, bringing their scholarships with them. Finally there are the thousands of miscellaneous scholarships available from various companies, corporations, organizations, agencies etc. These are all usually based on some sort of merit and can be easily obtained on sites such as fastweb.com. Most Georgia Tech Students should have the academic merit to get a significant amount of aid from non-institutional avenues. Additionally, there are already merit-based scholarships offered by the school. Namely, the Presidents Scholarship, which is awarded to the top applicants to Georgia Tech.
Merit-based aid has to be fair to all parties involved. That includes the student and their parents, the institution, and also those who have to pay for it. The main factor that must be evaluated is the academic qualifications needed to receive the award. In order to get and keep HOPE, students must achieve and maintain a 3.0 GPA. Most Georgia Tech applicants meet and exceed these qualifications since it is such a competitive and selective school. Having an institutional merit-based award would manifest itself in one of two ways. The financial aid office could set a reasonable minimum standard GPA, which many students would meet. Georgia Tech would basically be paying for a large number of students to attend. This in turn would require the school to come up with large amounts of money to pay for these students’ educations. Since it is a public university, a lot of this money would come from taxes. This would not be very fair to people who are not in college or do not have children going to college since they are not benefiting directly. Therefore, this situation would not work. Georgia Tech would lose money if most financial aid were merit-based because the majority of students admitted have very high merit. In contrast, having a primarily need-based system would give the school more money because awards would only go to those students who really needed them. Also, since they are already above the average merit-based qualifications, this plan would encourage students to seek more outside scholarships to cover any additional costs.
The second scenario is that the standards could be raised such that only the top percentile of students would receive this aid. This, however, would have disastrous implications to the future of the school. On one hand, the institution would not have to pay as much of the costs of education as it does now. This would increase the amount of money left to spend on improving the quality of education offered. Nevertheless, students who do not meet those qualifications would be at a significant disadvantage. They would have to find money elsewhere to fund their education. That would probably be outside scholarships, which is not a real problem, but rather a minor inconvenience. Another alternative would be to get a job while attending school, which could put their academics at a significant disadvantage to their peers who got merit-based awards. They could also attend other colleges or universities that offered them more aid and were less competitive. This would discourage many talented lower-class individuals from attending more prestigious Georgia colleges and reduce the socioeconomic diversity of Georgia Tech. Finally, they could just forget about higher education altogether. This would be counterproductive since one of the desired results of scholarship programs is to increase college attendance, not reduce it.
Some other competitive institutions have already done away with merit-based awards entirely. The best examples are the Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. When considering financial aid distribution for accepted students, they calculate the amount of money the student and their family can possibly contribute and then subsidize the remainder with grants, scholarships and loans(Dynarski). The reasoning behind it is simple, all the students they admit have the academic merit to receive aid, however, some are more needy than others. It would be unfair to reward the merits of some students and not others and it would be unwise to reward all. For that reason, merit plays no part in deciding financial aid at these schools. Georgia Tech is an equally competitive school and has equally qualified students. Therefore, Tech should adopt a financial aid policy that focuses on the needs of students and their families. This would make it easier for lower income students to attend, and it would reduce the amount of money that Georgia Tech has to award to students in financial aid packages.
In conclusion, a highly competitive institution like Georgia Tech has a large pool of academically qualified students already. Although many may benefit from a primarily merit-based system of financial aid, the school would ultimately suffer due to the overwhelmingly high scholastic merit of its student body. The only practical solution is to minimize merit-based award and increase need-based assistance. This would increase revenue and quality of education at, encourage diversity and further the reputation of Georgia Tech as being one of the best schools in the country.
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