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Benefits of Merit

In order to facilitate students in the costs of attending a post-secondary school, merit-based scholarships were created in the 17th Century. Since then they have created academic competitiveness among students, as well as promoted academic Excellency. Harvard was the first to instill a scholarship program; however, since then the focus on aid has moved from merit-based to need-based (Soto and Lopez, 1). I think Georgia Tech should award more merit-based scholarships than need-based in order to promote and bring back the academic competitiveness among students. By awarding more merit-based scholarships, it will also encourage students to strive for higher academic achievement. By having financial aid based on merit, it makes getting a scholarship an equal opportunity for everyone.

According to statistics, Georgia Tech awarded ninety-eight percent of the students who qualified need-based help financial aid. However, they only awarded twenty-four percent of the students who did not qualify for need-based financial aid (www.xap.com). On the Georgia Tech Financial Aid website, it even states “preference is given to students who show financial need” (www.finaid.gatech.edu). This is unfair to the students who do not need financial or who barely miss the cut-off. By making the majority of the scholarships merit-based, students who are from lower income families and students who do not qualify for need-based scholarships have the same opportunity to receive scholarships. Students should have to earn scholarships no matter what their financial status need might be. The word scholarship is derived form the word scholar and the definition of a scholar is a learned person. Therefore, it only seems fair that everyone should have to meet the same educational requirements in order to receive any monetary aid.

Over the years, the government has required Georgia Tech and other institutions to award more need-based scholarships. By doing this, students who never could have come to Georgia Tech are now being able to get in. Currently, “need-based aid is the most common category of aid awarded throughout the United States. Eligibility for need-based aid is determined by an evaluation of your family's financial circumstances through completion of a need analysis application known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (ERL Financial Need Basics.). The problem with the FASFA and need-based financial aid is that is does not help everyone who needs aid and does not provide enough aid. The FASFA, a form which need based aid is based on, does not take into consideration for instance the fact that a family might have three other children to put through college as well. Therefore, many people are excluded from it. Redd says, “Unmet need appears to be a serious problem, particularly for low-income undergraduates. In 1999-2000, the proportion of low-income students with unmet need ranged from 74 percent at public doctoral institutions to 92 percent at public 2-year institutions” (Redd, 1). There is also a large unmet need in the middle-class as well. Many argue that the middle-class are the ones who receive the majority of the aid; however, this official government site proves that untrue. It does not give an equal opportunity to everyone, like merit based aid allows.

Merit-based scholarships create a competitive environment by establishing a criterion that students must meet in order to be considered. The need-based scholarships that are awarded should also have some type of academic requirement as well, like the HOPE Scholarship. It is a merit-based scholarship, but it was designed to help need-based students. The drawback to the HOPE scholarship is that many students are losing it after their first year. Statistics show that “nearly 6 of 10 HOPE recipients in college failed to maintain a B average” (Selingo, A20). One way to change this statistic is to increase the academic requirements in order to make the HOPE based primarily on merit. Students who are high academic achievers in high school are more likely to keep the HOPE when they attend college. The scholarship has given an incentive for students to want to make good grades. Abigail Green, a freshman at UGA, says, “I don’t want to go back home and say I lost HOPE. In a way, HOPE is like a parent” (Selingo, A20). Students know that if they lose the scholarship, a huge financial burden will now be placed on their parents.

The HOPE scholarship has created a stronger competition for students being accepted into college. According to Selingo, “merit scholarships have helped states keep their brightest students, allows public colleges to admit more students with good grades and test scores, and increased the overall number of students in college” (Selingo, A20). From personal experience in a high school that had a Magnet Program that specified in Math, Science, and Technology, I know the HOPE played a major role in the decisions of our top students. All three of my high school valedictorians came to Tech because of the HOPE. A study by the University of Georgia shows that “three-fourths of the state’s high school graduates who scored better than a 1500 on the SAT now attend a Georgia institution, compared with just 23 percent before HOPE” (Selingo, A20). This statistic confirms that merit-based scholarships are not only beneficial for Georgia Tech, but the state of Georgia as well.

The HOPE scholarship and other merit-based scholarships are continually criticized that “academic achievement is closely linked to income, and the programs generally are open to students at all economic levels, the spits disproportionately go to children of the wealthy” (Selingo, A20). I think it is absurd that students from lower income families and minorities are now suing the state of Michigan because the scholarship system they have instilled there is based on a standardized test. They feel it is unfair because whites usually score higher than minorities. The problem I have with this is that who is stopping the lower income students from achieving higher academic success? The test is standardized for a reason, so that everyone has an equal opportunity as I feel it should be. If those students from lower income families want any monetary aid, they should have to work for it just like everyone else. Nothing comes easy in the world, so why should a free trip to college?

In conclusion, I can only see advantages with Georgia Tech awarding more merit-based aid as opposed to need-based. Georgia Tech has very high academic standards; therefore, it only seems reasonable when the average GPA of all degree-seeking freshman students is a 3.72 that a high academic requirement for financial aid be put into place (Georgia Institute of Technology Institute Research and Planning). With facts and statistics that show merit-based aid in fact increases academic competitiveness and attracts the top students, Georgia Tech would be ignorant not to increase the amount of merit-based scholarships they award.

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