Thoughts on Building Better Scholarships

A great piece from the Washington Post about the problem with college scholarships being increasing diverted away from financial aid to marketing.

Entrance scholarships are an example of this, every university offers scholarships to first-year students competing to offer the best discounts to attract higher enrollment. In effect, Entrance scholarships are the loss-leader of higher education marketing.

The result is that many institutions offer less needs based financial aid on a per student basis, and socio-economic diversity is suffering as a result.

One of the ideas in the WashPo article is to make needs-based scholarships automatically renewed each of the four years of a typical degree.

Form the article:
"'They need four-year scholarships,' she said. 'I would rather give a student $1,000 [a year] for four years than $4,000 for one year.'

This jumped out at me, because while I received a generous first year package, my overwhelming concern was the last two months of second year, and then how I would support myself beyond.

Another paragraph from the article:
"Tying “merit” scholarships to grades they get in future years in college. The practice is particularly difficult when the required GPA for keeping the scholarship is higher than the campus average. “That puts too much stress on the students and keeps them from pursuing their passions,” she said, even choosing a major based on how “easy” they think it will be instead of the one that fits them best.

My Crowd Ward's View at Age 19

Before I continue, it's extremely important to note major changes have been made to Crown Ward supports, OSAP formulas, and my experience is not reflective of present Crown Ward experiences who have supports that if I had, I would've enrolled in university

At age 19, York University was recruiting me into their political science program.

As a Crown Ward, I was living on my own, working to pay my bills - CAS only paid my rent and bus pass to get to school, and a small $63/month remained as an allowance. I was extremely aware that I had to be completely self-supporting by age 21 when my rent payments and allowance would be cut off.

While there are many reasons that I didn't go to university in 2001 at age 19 (I joined the army), this post is just going to look at how I responded to my scholarship offer.

York offered $2000 in tuition scholarship, and a $1000 discount on residence. They promised me the $2000 was renewable provided I maintained a B average.

At the time I received the offer, I was unemployed, I lost my job when two weeks in a row, multiple HSR buses failed to show up and I was late for work twice in two weekends. (The company policy was two lates per year)

It was tough, I used the food bank, and received some emergency funds from the Kiwanis Club's high school bursary fund that kept me from losing hydro and my phone.

Trying to find a job that gave me the hours I needed to work, as a OAC high school student was hard. I got job interviews, but they quickly ended when the potential employer realized I would likely be leaving in a few months for university. My lack of funds at the time prevented me from accepting an invitation to tour York's campus. (Other universities took my application, and sent me form letter responses with $500 scholarships and such. York was truly interested in me because of my political engagement as a teenager)

While the $2000 renewal scholarship seems generous to most - and it was -, my weighting of risk was much heavier than most 19 year olds.

My fear was not a lack of academic success, my concern was physical illness, and the resulting academic and job loss that would come.

At age 17, I became ill with Shingles, and spent about four weeks in bed, even two years later, had resulting postherpetic neuralgia. In the early winter of my 18th year, I tore my Achilles Tendon, couldn't work for a week, and in addition had the costs of crutches then a cane, even the tension bandage cost was felt in my budget.

Even a bad flu, like I had at age 16 missing two weeks of school, could drag my average below B. There was nothing that could convince me to not see and plan for that risk, after all I was living the consequences of job loss.

How would I possibly recover if illness struck after age 21, resulting in a bad term and the loss of scholarship?

Even worse, I'd be living in higher cost Toronto, there was just too much risk involved in my assessment.

A guaranteed scholarship for each year would've alleviated some of those concerns by decreasing the risk. I looked at everything as a potential downward spiral. Knowing the scholarship was secure would mean I didn't have to worry about a flu.

While I wasn't concerned about how I would do academically - political science is kinda my thing :) -, having the scholarship tied to a passing 4 GPA instead of 6 would've decreased my concerns further.

I can't reasonably say what I would've done different if I received a four-year guarantee offer, even at a lower yearly rate than that $2000 offer.

It was a different time, thankfully not an experience Crown Wars need to live today.

Better Crown Ward supports today

Crown Wards entering post-secondary education were the minority when I aged out. I won't list all the ridiculous government bureaucracy and barriers I encountered.

In 2007, Ontario made some changes to better support Crown Wards. (The changes did not apply to then aged out Wards like myself) In 2013, the Ontario finally made substantial changes to regulations to achieve the stated goals of the 2007 promises.

Crown Wards are now supported from age 22 to 25 if they are in full-time post-secondary studies or apprenticeship. Tuition waivers are in place, which are effectively automatic scholarships. OSAP is much better at supporting with grants, and the living expenses formula is closer to reality (the federal government has not acted to match).

Post-Secondary application fees are now funded. (Yes, I had to pay my application fee without support as a Crown Ward - limiting my applications options)

There are Crown Ward Education Championship Teams to support Wards today. (My worker was excellent, but the reality was she had too many Wards to support, and I was the one who needed the least support, so I was left to guide myself.)

Each post-secondary institution has supports on campus for Crown Wards.

Enrollment Used to Be Low

"About 850 students qualified for the grant last year", said the government in 2013 of the number of Crown Wards enrolled in post-secondary institutions province-wide receiving the Ontario Access Grants for Crown Wards. That's how few Crown Wards were continuing into higher education, even generously assuming all of them were in two-year college programs, that's only 425 enrolling per year. Split that into four-year programs, it would only be 212 per year.

I know things are getting better, professors I know speak to me about having Crown Wards in their classes. I'd lead tours for Crown Wards applying to post-secondary; the changes are working.

Now with the extensive supports for Crown Wards, my experience won't be repeated, but what about others from poor socio-economic backgrounds who don't have the benefits of Crown Ward supports?

There are a lot of barriers to access, and as the Washington Post article notes well - higher education knows its dirty little secrets of scholarships being used for marketing.

Crown Ward