Merit scholarships seen as way to compete with peer schools



Lyndsey Schley

Junior special education major Julie Jimenez is the child of a Vietnam War veteran who lost his leg and earned a Purple Heart.

She receives federal aid from the Veterans Affairs Office along with scholarships from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, the Kent State Honors College and the Oscar Ritchie Scholars Guild.

“My original plan was to go to a community college, but then I got these scholarships,” Jimenez said. “That’s the only reason why I’m able to attend a four-year university.”

While much of this aid has some basis in need, some have other requirements. Jimenez said her military-based aid requires her to keep a certain GPA and take a certain amount of classes for her major.

“They don’t give it to everyone,” Jimenez said. “ You have to have a high GPA to get it in the first place, but it’s mostly because my father is 100 percent disabled.”

National trends in college financial aid have been putting a squeeze on students like Jimenez. A study by National Center for Education Statistics has shown that merit-based aid has been increasing for years — far faster than need-based aid. Jimenez said she sees why universities do this, but the policy did not always benefit her.

“I would say the merit-based aid is the university making an investment in students,” Jimenez said. “Those who are already achieving are just given an incentive to keep on doing just that. I was a B-student in high school, not in any honors classes or anything, and I struggled to pay the first year, but then my grades went up.”

At Kent State, merit-based aid has been increasing since the 2008-2009 school year, while need-based aid has been dropping since the 2010-2011 school year, when more than $2 million less of this aid was given out than the year before.

Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Dave Garcia said the university uses aid to attract high-scoring students. Because of these students, the average GPA and ACT scores for last year’s incoming freshmen were the highest ever.

“Financial aid is always part of an enrollment strategy,” Garcia said. “It’s my job to work with others about how we find that touch point where a combination of financial aid will make a difference with the students that will enroll here.”

Merit-based awards are solely based on academic performance, Garcia said, and have been on the rise.

“Every year — and I think this is thematic through all the institutions in the United States — tuition goes up, room and board prices go up, so we’re always evaluating our merit-based scholarships to see if the value of those scholarships has been lost,” Garcia said. “We felt this increase was going to keep us competitive with our peer institutions.”

Junior math major Ian Cassidy chose Kent State because his merit-based scholarships covered full tuition.

Contact Lyndsey Schley at [email protected].