Officials at the University of Texas have made an interesting choice on how they will spend their scholarship dollars. It may or may not be a choice that other Big 12 schools would want to emulate, but the Texas rationale at least is worthy of note.
UT officials announced Tuesday that the school was pulling out of the well-known National Merit Scholarship Program. The program awards scholarships largely based on Merit test scores, and Texas decided its limited scholarship funds would be better directed at providing need-based assistance for students with limited financial resources.
According to news reports, only Harvard University has a higher enrollment of National Merit scholars than Texas, which had 281 Merit scholars enrolled last year. Universities, including Kansas University, historically have worked hard to boost their enrollment of Merit scholars because it was seen as an indicator of a university’s academic excellence.
Nonetheless, Texas has decided to go in another direction. In a prepared statement, the UT Office of Student Financial Services said, “The financial constraints brought about by the economy on families and the university require the redirection of resources to ensure accessibility to UT Austin by all qualified students, regardless of ability to pay.”
In the current economic climate, it’s hard to argue with that rationale, but what price will Texas pay for this decision? It’s hard to imagine the school will be able to maintain its Merit numbers, but maybe that isn’t as important as it once was. Various higher education groups have started to question awarding financial aid or even admission to a university based entirely on standardized test scores. When financial aid dollars are tight, giving scholarships to any student who could afford to pay his or her own way starts to make less sense.
It’s too soon to tell whether the Texas move will start a trend in the Big 12 or elsewhere, but when so many families are struggling to meet higher tuition rates, the UT strategy of directing more scholarship funds to students with the greatest financial need certainly has some appeal.