Letter from the editor: Where’s my money: Scholarship deduction policy needs adjustment

jacob-belgum

I remember last year when I got the email: Somehow, my friends and I won the apartment lottery and would live in Schoeneman Apartments during my senior year.

I wasn’t thrilled. I was relieved: Not only was I out of the dorms, but I wouldn’t hemorrhage scholarship money for moving off campus.

When you move off campus, you leave 10 percent of your Augustana scholarship behind. If you don’t have the meal plan, you leave 10 percent more. This policy excludes “talent” scholarships, for activities like music and athletics.

Because of this ratio, the more you earn, the more you lose, contradicting the more popular advertising slogan “the more you earn, the more you save.”

If you obtain $0 in scholarships, you sustain zero penalties for moving off campus. If you earn $20,000 in scholarships, say goodbye to $2,000 if you move off, $4,000 if you choose to dine outside the commons.

How is that fair?

Members of administration explained that Augustana’s scholarship is structured so that 80 percent of its sum goes to support tuition, while 20 percent goes to room and board. If you no longer use Augustana’s room and board, you cease to receive Augustana’s support.

Here is why that reasoning is wrong. Students who demonstrate talent, achievement and leadership earn larger scholarships. They receive extra funding for tuition-related reasons that have nothing to do with appetite or their ability to be a good roommate. To correlate food and shelter with academic achievement is nonsensical.

Here’s an idea: Award room and board scholarships evenly to all students and then correlate the tuition scholarship with ability and merit.

Moving off campus for cheaper (or better) housing or forgoing the meal plan does not signify a lack of financial need. The 20 percent of Augustana’s scholarship that vanishes should still support all students—not just students whose every dollar is supporting Augustana.

It’s also convenient that students can lose aid for their actions, but rising tuition doesn’t stimulate commensurate scholarship increases. Here, Augustana taketh but it does not giveth.

To be fair: I attended Augustana in part because of its affordability. (I have yet to meet a student who pays the $40,000 sticker price people enjoy complaining about.)

This scholarship reduction policy has not debilitated me. I have not been forced to work three jobs to afford food and housing. But some students do.

I’ve been lucky, and I’m sure others have, too. In addition to my base Augustana scholarships, I have received two scholarships that I didn’t even apply for. The amounts of money were not life-altering, but the sentiment of generosity was not lost on me. It was an act of love, and I’m grateful and humbled by it.

But not humbled enough to ignore something that needs fixing. I think this policy does.

Here’s an idea: Gustavus Adolphus, another ELCA-affiliated, Midwestern liberal arts school, reduces students’ scholarships by $500 if they move off campus. It’s a flat fee that doesn’t penalize students for high achievement. Gustavus might lose revenue from not filling a dorm, but one student squanders no more than the next.

Make the scholarships about the studies. One hundred percent of a student’s scholarship should go toward tuition. I came to Augustana because I thought it had the best professors around—not because of its ice cream machine. (OK, that is a lie. That contraption is my livelihood.)

Augustana Vice President for Finance & Administration Tom Meyer said he’s a proponent of the 80-10-10 format, which preceded his arrival at Augustana.

“We want students to have a complete Augustana experience, which is academic and community,” Meyer said. “It includes living here and dining here and being a part of Augustana.”

I don’t totally disagree with Meyer. Augustana gifts its scholarships with his expectation in mind. The dollar amounts might be smaller if administration expected its students to live off-campus or eat elsewhere.

I’m certainly not going to argue that scholarships should be reduced. Tresse Evenson, the director of financial aid, made that point to me: would you rather just receive the 80 percent to begin with? No. No, I would not.

I wish I could perfectly remedy this issue. I think the Gustavus model is one worth considering, but perhaps I’m better at illuminating this issue than solving it. Augustana professors teach their students to look at the world and ask, “What can we do better?” That, along with scholarship-reduction evasion, is my intention in writing this letter.

Jacob Belgum is a senior journalism and accounting major from Atwater, Minn.

+ posts

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: