I am attending something called the Super ACAC conference this week in Reno, NV.
It’s a rare combined meeting of three related organizations that cover California, the Pacific Northwest and much of the rest of the western United States. College admission administrators, high school counselors and independent college consultants are attending the conference.
On my Facebook page on Monday, I asked folks to send me questions that they’d like me to ask higher-ed experts. Over the next few days, I’ll be passing along some answers.
At lunch, I happened to sit at the lunch counter at the conference hotel with the head of college counseling at Francis Parker Schoolin San Diego and an admission rep from Villanova University. The three of us got into a discussion of merit aid versus need-based aid.
Merit Aid and College Rankings
Many colleges and universities are using merit aid scholarships to attract top students because these teens are as precious as gold in the admission process. Why?
Because schools regard them as essential to help their institutions boost their US News & World Report college rankings.
In the new second edition of my book, The College Solution (released this week!), I devote an entire chapter to the destructive nature of the college ranking and schools’ mindless pursuit of better numbers.) Unfortunately families consider the rankings a proxy for educational excellence, which drives schools to compete furiously for top students.
Many of the most desirable applicants are also rich. This isn’t surprising since these kids are more likely to attend better high schools and get higher SAT/ACT results since the test scores are tied to income. Students whose parents make $100,000 a year will do better on the standardized test on average than those who make $75,000 and the kids whose parents make $200,000 will do better than all those lower on the income ladder. At some schools, bright affluent students are getting bigger awards than the poorest students. There is nothing new about this, it’s been happening for many, many years.
Schools need to devote a large chunk of money to attract the best students – regardless of their income – because they are the kids who enjoy lots of choices. If Villanova didn’t give their smartest applicants merit scholarships, they could end up attending schools like Fordham, NYU, Boston University, Syracuse and Lehigh.
As an institution’s stock rises – students with higher academic profiles begin attending in higher numbers – a school can ratchet back on the merit aid to wealthy students. That’s what the Villanova rep says is happening at Villanova. That can free up more money for need-based financial aid. The most elite schools, such as the Ivies, don’t give any merit scholarhips at all because they are magnets for rich teenagers.
Another Merit Scholarship Example
Today there was a piece on National Public Radio about the use of merit scholarships that dovetails quite nicely with my lunchtime discussion. The piece discussed the use of merit scholarships at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. The piece must have resonated with a lot of people because I had two different people email me with the link this morning. The piece includes an observation from Robert Massa, an administrator at Lafayette, who I happen to know and admire, about the use of these merit scholarships:
Here is what I find so ironic about the system we are stuck with: if all schools just said no to non-need-based merit scholarships, the prices for all students would decline. After all, the colleges must make up for the yearly revenue lost through merit scholarships and that means raising prices.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price that’s hot off the press. It was released over the weekend!
The College Solution Workshops
If you’re going to be in sunny San Diego on May 12 and/or May 19, I’d urge you to consider attending one or both of the college workshops that I will be holding through the University of California San Diego Extension.
At the workshop on May 12 I will share ways to make college more affordable while at the workshop on May 19 I will focus on academic and admission issues. You can learn more about the college workshops here.
If you have questions, just email me at Lynn@TheCollegeSolution. I hope to see you there!