AU is about to lose its middle class.
The administration is switching 10 percent of its financial aid distribution from merit-based to need-based. The administration believes AU should focus on attracting a more diverse socioeconomic student body and decrease the amount of merit scholarships.
However, merit-based aid is often what brings students to AU in the first place.
AU has been terrific at awarding merit scholarships. They have prided themselves on giving money to those who worked hard academically. These merit scholarships are more than gifts: They are why students come to AU as opposed to similar universities. If a student qualifies for need-based aid, it is likely that they will qualify for need-based aid at many universities. It’s the merit scholarships that set AU apart.
The administration justifies the switch because of AU’s improving reputation. AU is moving away from being the safety school for George Washington University. Each year AU sees more applicants who excelled in high school. With an increase in reputation, middle-income students may apply and attend AU without the merit-based aid as an incentive.
However, AU’s reputation is not increasing as fast as the administration believes. The decision to shift the distribution of aid money could harm prospective middle-income students.
College is expensive. In today’s world, almost no one can afford higher education, rich or poor. Tuition rates keep rising without a foreseen endpoint. Everyone is struggling to finance their higher education, but this change will significantly affect the middle class.
Middle class students depend on merit-based financial aid. Many of these students do not qualify for need-based aid, but also cannot pay the tuition upfront. By making this change, AU will create a wealth gap. The majority of students attending will be the rich who can pay the tuition, and the poor who are given the tuition.
There is a perception that merit scholarships are extra cash allotted to the upper-middle class who were privileged enough to attend great schools, get good grades and still had time to be the captain of the soccer team. But, due to college tuition rates, merit-based aid has become the new need-based aid for some. Students in high school work hard to receive these scholarships and many middle-income students would not be able to attend without them. Students are now paying for college through merit-based aid and student loans.
The administration has a point; More need-based aid should be given out. There may even be benefits to switching aid towards more need-based over time. However, in one cut, a 10 percent decrease is huge. Prospective students who may depend on merit aid will be shocked.
Before making any decisions, AU should consider all of its students. ≠ E