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Standards for merit scholarships rise as university pushes need-based aid

Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 03:08

Students applying and enrolling to DePauw University have always done so with the knowledge of the university’s high academic standards.

But students now applying to DePauw will find that those academic standards may mean tougher thresholds to receive merit scholarship money.

“I think we’re trying to be better stewards for resources we have available,” said Dan Meyer, Vice-President for Admissions and Financial Aid. “We can use our limited financial means for those students who have the greatest needs.”

Meyer and the admissions staff have made decisions over the past three years to increase the qualifications for potential students to receive merit scholarships – or scholarships based on a student’s academic qualifications. Meyer said the admissions office works with a consulting firm, Human Capital, to weigh about 20 different factors when deciding how much money to award a potential student.

When he came to DePauw almost three and a half years ago, “basically 99 percent of students featured some sort of merit award,” Meyers said.

In the past, potential students had to average a 3.0 GPA in high school and score at least a 1000 on the SAT to receive the minimum $5,000 merit scholarship.

The freshman class of 2016 though, saw those numbers rise to a 3.5 and at least an 1150 on the SAT.

Overall, the class of 2016 averaged about $1,800 more in tuition fees than the class of 2015 – even though the classes stack up well in size and test scores.

Meyer stressed that he did not want to oversimplify the process — that the admission office does use a holistic approach to assessing students and GPA and SAT scores are just one of about 20 factors that are all weighted.

He also emphasized that DePauw is “not cutting financial aid for students who have demonstrated financial need.

“The reality is students who suffer the most as we raise the bar for academic awards are the students coming from families who have the means to pay for their DePauw experience,” Meyer said.

He added: “We’re not in the business of making money. But we’re also not in the business of losing or running a deficit.”

President Brian Casey was adamant that he wants scholarships to be administered. He pointed to trends in Ivy League schools and other top institutions across the nation that do not give any merit scholarship and rely completely on need-based aid in assisting students.

Ultimately, he wants the university to move to a place where a large amount of financial support awarded to students is need-based. He said the idea is that the money saved from merit will be split to address the university’s “structural operating deficit” and additional support with need-based scholarships.

Both Casey and Meyer mentioned the university’s value when discussing how scholarships are assigned. The notion is that just throwing money at students to attract them to DePauw gives merit awards lessens the value of a DePauw education.

This is all part of a big picture plan for the university. The thought is DePauw will begin to garner a larger national reputation and ultimately one that supports high academic standards.

“We want students choosing to come to DePauw because it’s the right place for them,” Casey said. “And then if there family needs support, there’s support for them.”

Junior Ben Roess suggests that such scholarship money was a major factor in his choice of DePauw over other prestigious institutions including Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Roess acknowledges that he probably would not be at DePauw if it was not for the merit package he received.

“Without my merit package, I would not be able to afford DePauw without a mountain of debt after graduating,” Roess said.

But even Roess said that a more conservative approach to merit-based scholarships could be a positive change for the university.

“DePauw is a rigorous enough school already,” he said. “If we keep standards high and reward exceptions — not an assumed norm — we will continue to provide opportunities without forgetting what is truly being rewarded.” 

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