Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Improving College Aid?

A recent Washington Post editorial, “Improving College Aid,” makes several good points, but overlooks several others.

Need-based financial assistance is shamefully neglected in our educational system. Omitting platitudes about The American Dream, everyone suffers when any deserving student is denied the opportunity to be a doctor, teacher, nurse, or other professional, merely because they can’t afford to go to college. It is society’s loss when talent goes unrecognized. For it to happen in a nation with our resources is unconscionable.

That being said, the existing system does a questionable job of determining who is “in need.” Families who have conscientiously saved for their children’s education may have their sacrifices held against them, as they have money available. Financial aid decision-makers wield influence well beyond college assistance, as they have the ability to help to determine how much a family has left over for retirement, future medical expenses, or the proverbial “rainy day.” After college has been paid for, of course.

Picture two families, with the same number of children and the same income, living across the street from each other. Family A limits their vacations to an annual week of day trips, maybe a weekend in Ocean City. They eat out a couple of times a month. Their Honda/Nissan/Neon is nearing 100,000 miles.

Family B flies to Florida for spring break, and takes a comfortable vacation every year, and owns a second home in the mountains. They eat out twice a week and buy a new Acura/Infiniti/Mercedes as soon as the last one is paid for.

Family A had money in the bank for education; Family B does not. Who gets more financial aid? Family B, of course.

Also at issue is America’s continuing celebration of mediocrity. Should not an excellent student reap some reward other than a hearty “Well done” for making sacrifices of her or his own? Social functions are skipped and extracurricular activities are foregone in order to make the grades needed for a better school. Should such a student be confronted with another hurdle because his or her parents were too conscientious in their habits?

If merit scholarships are to be eliminated, athletic free rides must also go. (In its current usage, “athletic scholarship” is an oxymoron.) The elimination of legacies would also be a reasonable step, as it would make available more spots for deserving students.

What’s needed is a sliding scale that considers both merit and financial circumstance, and defines financial circumstance as income, not savings. People who make more money have more flexibility in how they dispose of their resources. Let’s not reward their bad choices at the expense of others.

There is, obviously, an income level above which financial aid should not be considered. I think anyone absorbing the Washington area’s cost of living for even a modest lifestyle would agree that $92,400 is not the amount after which their children should be on their own.

1 comment:

100Student said...
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