NYU’s withdrawal from program sparks controversy over National Merit scholarships in elite universities
Despite a national trend of universities discontinuing funding for national merit scholarships, Washington University continues to fund students named with the distinction.
New York University’s recent decision to stop funding the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP) has incited a host of discussions amongst universities over whether it is practical to offer scholarships based on standardized test scores.
The NMSP has recently come under fire as top-tier schools have begun to doubt the practicality of offering financial aid based on PSAT scores. As the economy continues to struggle, some schools have joined their Ivy League peers to shift their focuses to need-based aid.
NYU has one of the largest merit-based financial aid programs in the country. It was the ninth school to leave the NMSP, two years after funding 83 National Merit scholarships for its 2009-10 class.
For the 2009-2010 freshman class, Washington University funded 161 National Merit Scholars—the fifth largest number in the nation. The University offers Scholars and finalists between $7500 and $8000 over their four years.
The NMSP works with colleges to provide more than $50 million to students annually. Around 15,000 finalists are chosen each year based on performance on the PSAT exam. Approximately 8,300 finalists are selected to receive one of three kinds of Merit Scholarships. Some of these finalists are awarded one-time $2,500 scholarship sponsored directly by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The University’s policy has been to extend this $2,500 award for three years for each scholar sponsored by the NMSC.
The other two Merit Scholarship categories are corporate-sponsored merit scholarship awards and college-sponsored merit scholarship awards. The University sponsors an annual $2000 scholarship for every NMSP finalist not awarded the $2500 scholarship sponsored by the NMSC.
Some students are supportive of the decrease in university-sponsored NMSC scholarships
“So much importance has been built up around standardized testing, and there’s kind of a modern day consequence to that,” sophomore Yuan Xia said. “People are beginning to realize that this isn’t the most viable method of evaluating a student’s success, so society is reforming its perspective on education in general.”
But Xia added that while the system may be flawed, cutting it may ultimately harm students who depend on the scholarships for college.
“I disagree with standardized testing in general, but…you’d be decreasing the total amount of money granted to students, and that’s what most important,” he said.
National Merit scholarships do not factor into students’ admissions decisions at Washington University.
Director of Student Financial Services, Bill Witbrodt, noted that students are admitted based on a variety of factors: their achievement in high school, their character and integrity and anything else that sets them apart.
Witbrodt added that the University does not recruit students based on their National Merit status.