Pro: Tulane should prioritize need-based aid before merit-based

Brendan Lyman, Views Editor

The following is an opinion article, and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo

As high school seniors head into the final weeks of their college decision-making process, they often realize one of higher education’s greatest open secrets: the sticker price of schools is far more than the price they will pay.

At Tulane the story is no different, as many students will find themselves paying half, a quarter or even less of the more than $60,000 sticker price. The major reason in the reduction of that price is related to merit-based aid given by schools to perspective students. The rate of merit-based aid at selective private universities like Tulane, however, is unnecessarily high compared to the relatively low rate of need-based aid distributed. Tulane can make a positive impact by decreasing the amount of merit-based aid in favor of need-based.

When Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania realized that despite increasing merit-based aid, their academic stature had not improved, the university set on a dramatic course to correct the issue. F&M ended the majority of its merit-based aid in favor of providing more comprehensive need-based aid to students. The number of students in financial need soared over the following years, but F&M’s academic rankings and diversity improved too.

Tulane’s Office of Admissions likes to cite that 80 percent of students receive financial aid packages that include both merit and need-based aid. Further, Tulane contends that because students receive their merit-based awards before need-based, and the awards offered are high, many students do not bother to apply for need-based aid. According to U.S. News and Reports, however, only 52 percent of Tulane students bother to apply for need-based aid, and only 38 percent receive need-based aid.

With a cost of attendance as high as Tulane’s, the figures above do not support the Office of Admissions’ notion. Rather, the statistics point to a student body with few low-income students, many students who would receive need-based aid if merit aid were discontinued and a sizable number of students who exhibit limited or no financial need.

Talking to many students throughout campus, it is clear that without the merit-based aid, many would not be able to afford Tulane. Yet, that shouldn’t deter students from supporting a move to lower the amount of merit-based aid in favor of increasing need-based aid. Many of the same students who receive merit-based would likely qualify for need-based aid, and in some cases may receive more.

Additionally, by directly lowering the cost of attendance based on the ability to pay, Tulane is more likely to attract a more economically and socially diverse student body.

There is no argument that students who work hard throughout high school should lose the ability to earn merit-based aid. A near total reduction in merit-based aid, like that seen at F&M, cannot work everywhere, nor should high-achieving students be punished for their financial position. At Tulane, however, where the amount of merit-based aid given out each year is slightly more than the amount of need-based, there is room for the school to shift resources, provide increased access to opportunity for lower income students and increase diversity. 

Brendan Lyman is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can reached at [email protected]