Financial Aid for the Fortunate?

November 25, 2011

Political Theory


We all know college is expensive. Essentially, there’s no easy way around beating the cost of attending a good college. Many parents save up for years, some money to put aside and help pay the way for their children to attend college. For others, their only hope of attending a University is through scholarship, federal aid, or financial grants. Many students, will even take out student loans, and work many jobs to support themselves through college, only to pay them off at a later time. However, scholarships are not scare resources. Many organizations and universities grant many students scholarship and financial aid money, each year.

At the same time, we must consider, who, is eligible for these scholarships and grants? While many top-tier universities grant thousands of dollars in scholarship to students each year, one must consider how worthy or in need of such scholarships and financial aid are these students receiving the money?

According to the College Board, many universities are giving $5.3 billion dollars in financial aid this year. However, many of those students who are on the receiving end of the financial aid, do not actually need the grants. As shocking as this may seem, there is an apparent strategy behind this. Many colleges and universities use their grant money to aid and lure in high-achieving students and applicants. They also look for those students who come from high-income families, that they know will be able to pay off the rest of their schools costly tuition. As USA Today reported, “Elite universities such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford now give aid to families earning as much as $200,000, which less-selective schools say puts pressure on them to also offer grants to higher-income families. Education experts say such subsidies mean less help for lower- and middle-income students, who are falling deeper into debt to pay tuition.”  While we once debated both sides to affirmative action and who should be admitted to a college and university, its principles of equality, race, and gender, we now have to worry about class. Class is important here, because it allows us to understand who is worthy and should or should not be allowed to get a scholarship or financial aid, based on their average household income.

This public issue relates directly to class, as the nearly $5.3 billion dollars given away this year with financial aid has mainly gone to providing the upper class with resources they do not need. They are taking away opportunity, money, and potential for success, from traditionally well-deserving of financial aid, low-income families. The concept of financial aid and grant money, is so that it can go to helping those students in need. Students in need would most likely be the students who academically have the potential to attend college, but do not have the financial resources to attend. However, many of the students receiving the parts of this $5.3 billion-dollar financial aid are those students whose parents are earning average household incomes of $100,000 – $180,000.

Even more disappointing is the fact that the quantity of financial aid awarded to low-income students, has been steadily declining over the past 10 years. Roughly two-thirds of students now borrow to pay for college. Regardless of class, this helps us infer that many students will need to take out loans to help pay through college. However, some will have heftier loans to pay off than others. Scholarships and grants can help those who cannot help themselves, and should be given to those students who have the academic potential for success, just scarce financial resources.

So I ask you, is this how things should be? Should most of the financial aid and money be for wealthy upper-class students, in order to lure and attract them to a particular school, knowing that with a little help, they could pay for the rest of the tuition bill? Or, should the scholarships and grant money go to the lower-income families, where students might have to take out student loans in order to fully support themselves through college? Is this system unjust or skewed in the slightest? What can be done about this issue of concern?

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University of Michigan Student

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10 Comments on “Financial Aid for the Fortunate?”

  1. jsimon99 Says:

    It is unfortunate that colleges give grants and aid to many upper class families. I do believe that most or almost all of the money should be reserved for families and students who need help paying for college. It does not seem fair that universities try to lure wealthy upper-class students by giving them a little help knowing they will be able to pay off the rest of the tuition bill. I believe that most of the money should go to students who truly need help with the school they want to attend. This system that is in place is very much skewed since it looks towards wealthy students a lot who might be able to apply themselves more academically than others. One of my friends this year is a freshmen and he is from Miami, Florida. He came into his freshmen year with 45 credits from AP tests in high school. Right now he is on a full scholarship at Michigan. If my friend didn’t get a full scholarship he would not have been able to attend Michigan because of the tuition. These are the type of students schools should be directly focused on for handing out financial aid and grants. However some might argue what if a student coming in freshmen year with 45 credits comes from an upper-class family. Maybe the school can give some sort of scholarship, but I still believe universities should mainly focus on lower-income families. It is not fair to those who do not have the same advantage and equality of going to a university than a wealthy student.

  2. phillipschermer Says:

    While I am certainly all for giving people who are disadvantaged a leg up so that they can afford college, I guess an important question remains. Who donated the money that is being given out? And, for what purpose? If someone donates $100 million for the purpose to create scholarships that attracts the very brightest to the University (whatever University that is), then I can understand, for example, a sub-Ivy University trying to pull an Ivy League-bound student away with the allure of a free-ride. In that sense, since the money was originally the property of an individual, and given with an express purpose, than I do believe that the University doesn’t have an obligation to use it for people who cannot afford college. That is not to say that it shouldn’t; rather, it should be used to get the very best students to that University, be it someone who cannot afford college or someone who can afford college.

    I believe that the situation is different when the money is allocated specifically for low-income students. It should be our goal to remove as many barriers as possible for high-achieving students to attend the best Universities that they can. In try to achieve that end, one could logically deduce that this would imply focusing scholarship money on low-income, high-achieving students.

    In sum, I guess the answer to the question posed above is hard to answer. It isn’t so cut and dry as to say that money should be directed toward high-achieving students, or low-income, high-achieving students. I would argue that the primary focus should be the latter group, but there are instances when focusing scholarship money on the former group is also valid.

  3. Baihan Li Says:

    Well, there is joke about tuition. It is said that a young man who becomes millionaire is interviewed and asked how he becomes so rich. He answers, ” Well, my parents just save my tuition for undergraduate and graduate school and give it to me.”

    As for the financial aid, I actually have something to say. The purpose of financial aid is ambiguous. For example, when simply looking at the family income, a lot of international students definitely fit the criteria. However, few of them get the financial aid and none of Americans think it is inappropriate. To further develop this point, I just wanna say that the decision of financial aid is intrinsically biased. It is not a fortune for whoever desires knowledge but is prevented by financial problem; rather, financial aid is more like a reward granted to students preferred by the school.

  4. joethahn Says:

    It is sad to see that much of the distributed financial aid is not going to those who need it the most. It seems as if universities these days care more about making money than providing a high-quality education for its students. However, after I took the time to think more deeply into the situation, I felt that it was somewhat reasonable for universities to give financial aid to those who will be able to easily pay off the cost because the university needs a huge sum of money in order to provide a top notch education to its students. Nonetheless giving financial aid to those who don’t need it does defeat the purpose of it. Being a person who is from an upper-middle class family I feel very divided on the issue. It seemed like you thought it was a negative thing that families making an average of 100-180 thousand dollars per year getting most of the financial aid was a bad thing, but I actually see this as a good thing. From my own experience I have seen families making less than 50 thousand per year receive a very reasonable tuition rate, but the families making between 100 and 200 thousand dollars per year have it the hardest because they lose the greatest percentage of their income, especially if they are paying out of state tuition. These families are able to pay off the entire tuition without aid, but in turn lose the greatest portion of their total income. I think that there is definitely a solution to this problem. I read that Ivy League schools have started a system where if a household makes less than a certain amount they pay a practical percentage of their income. This is a good start to creating a resolution and I hope more similar proposals come to the surface.

  5. benhenri Says:

    This college scholarship system is skewed to me, but also very shameful. Unfortunately, those that actually need money for college usually are not so well- equipped for college (meaning that they are not so well-educated or skilled or smart) simply because they did not have the resources education-wise to do considerably well on exams and the like in high- school to impress universities. So, of course, colleges do not choose these people from a lower socioeconomic class to receive their scholarship money. Then, these people are not given an opportunity to best educate themselves and obtain the best occupations they can when they graduate from college. Also, without people educated to the best of their abilities, our society would not be functioning most efficiently, most wisely, nor be in the best position to quickly and easily improve itself. In other words, if our global population (or, at least, in the United States) was, we would be smarter and be able to advance our society more and faster. We must fix this college scholarship system. I agree with joethahn. But, universities, not just the Ivy League, should take and employ the sort of progressive theory we have for income tax now.

  6. jonkeren Says:

    It is very unfortunate that the rate at which people whose parents earn less money are getting less and less financial aid. Although these less privileged students need and deserve more help financially than the more affluent college students, they are getting smaller percentages of it for one main reason. The reason is that a University is a business, and just like any other business, it is trying to earn as much money as possible. By granting more money to wealthier students it helps attract them into attending their university. Scholarships usually do not cover all the payments colleges require, and therefore the students whose parents do not earn a lot of money normally have to take out college loans. It is much easier for a university to not have to deal with college loans and therefore it is financially a better more for colleges to give the majority of its loans to wealthier students. This system may not be right and it may not be fair, but at the end of the day a universities goal is to be as financially successful as possible. If giving scholarships to richer students helps accomplish this goal, then that is what college universities are going to do.

  7. euriosti Says:

    I think that this idea comes back to the issue of equality. The toughest part of equality, is that everyone has their own definition of equality. While I believe that all students should be able to attend universities, I don’t think that all students deserve to go to the elite universities. There are many different requirements to get into different universities. Not everyone is qualified, but this is what some people consider unfair. Paying for a $50K tuition price isn’t for everyone and I think that’s perfectly fair. Some students would receive help due to academic achievements and overcome the substantial amount of tuition. Others would decide that attending a cheaper university is in their best interest. I think people have to be realistic when choosing a university. The benefits have to outweigh the costs. Also, the choice in university doesn’t directly correlate to success. A student with a good work ethic and ambition can succeed at any institution.

  8. hoeylue Says:

    As an exchange student from Germany I can tell the differences between the education system of a less socialistic country as the US and a more socialistic country as Germany. You guys have better equipped university but you pay way too much for a similar education. In the past few months the federal state I live in abolished the university tuitions fee per semester. It used to be 650€ (around 865$) per semester, and now studying at a German university is totally free for everyone, except for some federal states as Bavaria. The reason why they had introduced the tuition fees in first place was to be able to spend more money on the equipment and the supervision of students. However, in the last few years almost nothing changed, triggering a wave of furious students protesting across whole Germany about the useless fees. I mention this to show, that paying more doesn’t necessarily gives you a better education. From my classmates in both countries I can judge that the diversity of students with different social background is much higher in Germany than in the US. In Germany everybody is given an equal opportunity from the very beginning and students from lower income families are being supported by the government their entire high school and college life. Getting a scholarship however is harder than in the US, making the students who receive it more independent from their social background. That’s why I think that the grants give by the Ivy League Universities to the wrong group of students only increases the gap between students of richer and poorer families and making the already bad situation even worse.

  9. jpstern Says:

    It is a shame that money is given to students who could easily afford college. When college give aid to high achieving students, it discriminates against poorer students who are equally successful. Socio-economic standing unfortunately plays a direct part in how well a person will do in school. I believe that scholarships should be used to even the playing field. Allow poorer students, who didn’t do as well in high school, but show passion for learning acceptance into a great university. This would greatly benefit our educational system because it adds diversity and doesn’t produce a student body of complete elitists.

  10. bonannianthony Says:

    I think this is a good post outlining good points, but I don’t agree with the whole thing. Sure, financial aid should be given to those who need it the most, same with federal grants and other things. However, I think the scholarships should be open to everyone, which is what it is now. Part of the allure of going to specific schools is because of the possible financial advantage of going to said school. For example, if I got a full ride to attend a school say, MSU, because of my grades it would give me a hard decision to make. Where on the other hand I can go to U of M and pay a full hefty tuition, I don’t know what I would do. My point is scholarships provide options for all students not just those who need more help paying for school. My last point would be what about athletic scholarships? If a student’s parents make 200,000 $ per year would that student automatically be disqualified from receiving a full athletic scholarship? Overall, I think this is a good post but I’m not sure I agree with all of it.

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