The college arms race | Arkansas Blog

The college arms race

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At a hearing yesterday, colleges objected to a Higher Education Department suggestion to cap spending on merit scholarships. Disparity in scholarship spending has helped some colleges and hurt others.

Ernest Dumas, writing in the Arkansas Leader recently, explains why, though it might sound counterintuitive, that a reduction in merit scholarships is a good idea.

Here is why it is unfair. The schools raise tuition every year partly to pay these scholarships, so other students are paying stiffer tuition to give a free ride to somewhat better scholars. Typically, the higher-achieving students happen to be those who are better able to pay so poorer students are subsidizing richer ones. Frequently, they stack scholarships — for instance, a National Merit scholarship, a music scholarship and a university-funded merit scholarship.

The limits would not affect the amount of state aid spent on need-based scholarships, nor should they. The state has a keen interest in increasing the college-going rate, and this is how to do it. Keeping tuition low is another way.

UCA and Arkansas Tech, which spend a larger share of their budgets on merit scholarships than the other institutions, argue that the limit would give a huge advantage to UA-Fayetteville because it might use its huge private endowment to offer scholarships that other campuses could not match because of the ceiling.

Purcell will find that the schools will carry the day in the legislature, unless his boss, Gov. Beebe, buys into the idea. Let’s hope he does.

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