Merit? What merit?

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How many don’t get to take this photo?

How many don’t get to take this photo?

Issues with scholarships based on merit

Article: Robyn Tocker – A&C Editor

When you decide university is what you want to do, costs are often the first thing that come to mind. You don’t think about the yearly tuition hikes, mainly because you believe (hope) that is an urban legend, but you understand that you are going to be shelling out some massive chunks of cash to get the degree you want.

Let me begin by saying I am not from a well-off family. My parents are middle class, and while I never went without anything in my childhood, when I decided on university, I knew I’d need a scholarship. I applied for 10 with money ranging from $500 to $8000.

I got lucky. $2000 a year for four years was granted to me, and while it covers over half my tuition for one semester, that isn’t enough.

Think of it like this: if you’re from a lower-income family and you want to be a vet, where do you get the money? Scholarships. Big ones, preferably. Or what if you’re parents are middle class, like mine, so the loans you would apply for don’t cover nearly enough? You need scholarships.

The problem with being so dependent on these things is that scholarships often don’t go to the lower income children.

Children from higher-income families are 10 per cent more likely to win a merit-based scholarship than students from low-income families, according to a 10,000-student survey in Ontario conducted by Higher Education Strategy Associates. What merit-based scholarship are we talking about? Well, the Loran scholarships are just one, and boy do they shell out the big bucks. Of the 30 students selected, each receive up to $80,000 expected to cover tuition and living expenses.

Seems generous, right? If it went to students of lower income families, hell yeah, but this is where things get messed up. I checked out the Loran website, and what they want seems pretty standard. They go through a “rigorous selection process” where they invest in “long-term potential” and the incoming class of scholars go through an “extensive network.”

Maybe the ones who pick the receivers think those of lower income families can’t have “long-term potential,” but that’s obviously a load of bs. I don’t need to tell you the amount of money you (or your parents) have does not equal your ability to learn, your potential, or anything like that.

Underneath “rigorous selection process” they list what qualities they look for in an applicant: “personal integrity and character, commitment to service and an entrepreneurial spirit, breadth in academic and extra-curricular interests, strongly developed inner-directedness, and outstanding overall potential for leadership.”

Seems to me like that could describe anyone from any class/social standing. So why do students from wealthier families get this scholarship more often?

I don’t want to say those who conduct the interviews for applicants are biased, but let’s be honest: when you’re interviewing someone, you already know what you’re looking for in an applicant. That shapes the questions you ask.

I don’t know what kind of questions they ask these interviewees, but perhaps they should focus more on the actual person instead of the amount of money their parents have, especially if the parents have a lot of it. Does the applicant have the above qualities listed? What kind of an impact do they want to make on the world, their country, their community? Shouldn’t we invest in those students instead of the ones Mommy and Daddy can easily support?

I’m not saying that because a student has wealthy parents they are financially secure. I know there are students at the University of Regina whose parents are wealthy but don’t get support from them for various reasons. The point is, if a student shows potential, if they have “personal integrity” and all that jazz, they should receive the scholarship, no matter what their background is.

Image: Chad Miller

1 comment

  1. Edward Dodd 11 March, 2014 at 10:15

    Part of the problem, I think, is that people from less-well-off families don’t have the same opportunities to show the “entrepreneurial spirit” or participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. If you don’t have some form of start-up money, it’s pretty difficult to start a business, and if your family doesn’t have any extra money, it can be hard to do extracurricular activities that cost money. Or you might have to work after school to help supplement your family’s income and don’t have time for the extracurriculars that other people might be able to participate in. The fact that students from wealthier families would have more time in general to put together applications would probably have something to do with it as well. While there might be some bias in the people choosing who gets the scholarships, the people choosing are looking at a group of people who have already been limited by so many factors that it is not surprising people who really, really need those scholarships are not being represented.

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