Aid on the Basis of Need or Merit?

This is a topic that concerns me quite a bit, because I have a pretty personal stake in the outcome of this debate and because I have many equity concerns. In the paper “Piecing Together the College Affordability Puzzle,” the authors at one point discuss performance-based scholarships as an alternative or supplement to current financial aid models. This discussion leaves me with several questions and thoughts.

Before reading this part of this paper, I had considered myself to be fairly familiar with the need versus merit aid debate in its context in WI higher ed financial aid funding. So when I read in this piece that “…performance-based scholarships may be more cost-effective than a program model that awards grants to students without requiring them to meet performance standards.” The idea of tying aid to test scores or ‘performance’ sounds an awful lot like merit-based aid, but I read on to understand the distinction in the paper’s Policy Recommendations section. If this conversation is about need-based aid being distributed on the basis of performance but is still need-based, I’m less concerned. But I wonder how this would be done in a way that still is able to account for the systemic barriers that may low-income students who need this aid to attend college face (especially those from less educated families, those from poorer schools, or those who may face language barriers on such tests). Test scores tend to favor middle-class, white students, so I question their viability as a metric by which to determine which students recieve the financial aid that they need and which do not.

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