Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

March 11, 2007

What’s the merit in merit-based aid?

Filed under: college rankings — texased @ 1:48 pm

Very interesting article.

Merits of student aid – The Boston Globe:

Since then, the growth in merit-based aid at these places has outpaced that of need-based aid in an effort to attract these upper-middle-class students with higher board scores who will make a school more competitive. While some merit money is mixed with need, the trend is clear and results scandalous.

College rankings exacerbate this noxious development. Blame rankings on those odious annual lists U.S. News & World Report dreamed up to sell magazines. Otherwise sane academic leaders drank the Kool-Aid to look better.

Listen to Tufts president Lawrence Bacow, who offers zero merit dollars: “It is far from clear to me how society is better off when scarce financial aid resources are diverted from the neediest students to those who are not needy by any measure, simply to redistribute high scoring students among our institutions.”


Baum, among many, cites Washington University in St. Louis for its extensive use of merit aid: “It didn’t have to do it. That’s a choice. That’s about rankings.” (Washington U. would not give me numbers on its student aid, which, in my book, is akin to refusing a breathalyzer. Closer to home, Simmons did the same and Emerson never got back to me.)

There are people that are trying to focus more attention on the goal of a college education as oppose to it’s selectivity. The Washington Monthly has created their rankings that includes a “Social Mobility” score.

“The Washington Monthly’s Annual College Guide” by the Editors:

And so, to put The Washington Monthly College Rankings together, we started with a different assumption about what constitutes the “best” schools. We asked ourselves: What are reasonable indicators of how much a school is benefiting the country? We came up with three: how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country. We then devised a way to measure and quantify these criteria (See “A Note on Methodology”). Finally, we placed the schools into rankings. Rankings, we admit, are never perfect, but they’re also indispensable.By devising a set of criteria different from those of other college guides, we arrived at sharply different results. Top schools sank, and medium schools rose. For instance, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 48th on the U.S News list, takes third place on our list, while Princeton, first on the U.S. News list, takes 43rd on ours. In short, Pennsylvania State, measured on our terms–by the yardstick of fostering research, national service and social mobility–does a lot more for the country than Princeton.

If you get what you measure, would we better off with colleges striving to make the U.S. News and World Report rankings or the Washington Monthly rankings?


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