Scholarships for the 2013-2014 year have largely been determined. It allows for a look back into the financial aid received over the last four years to assess the validity and effectiveness of monies received. Financial aid is the means by which universities acquire a student body that is advantageous to the perception of the institution and for the future quality of alumni (and therefore, future funding). Private universities are more adept at providing financial aid because they have turned it into an intrinsic part of their business model: pay for top talent against fierce competition and make a return thereafter. 

My own experience with scholarships has been sweet-and-sour. I have probably amassed more funding than the average student; but I have not received any major scholarship, nor have I received many scholarships where an application is required. The highest dollar scholarship I have received is $4000. The total is by no means an exceptional amount.

55% of financial aid funding was from automatic grade-based scholarships. Half of it was awarded upon entrance. For an institution, talent acquisition is more difficult than talent retention.  But the preference for entrance scholarships falls apart given the disparity in grading at the high school level. Determining over one-fourth of scholarship funding by inconsistent evaluation is daft. From the institution’s perspective, it incentivizes a pseudo-random sample of students to attend.

The other half of automatic scholarships is not without its problems but is significantly fairer. Students take a repertoire of similar courses with similar grade distributions so that the highest performing students receive the highest payouts. But grade calculations are questionable and uniformity of grade distributions class-to-class is not assured. Also, universities do not benefit; students who are high performers need not the monetary persuasion.

How to improve scholarship funding

Large scholarships (e.g. $500+) should have transparent eligibility criteria (e.g. female students who have taken COMM X, Y and Z in previous years). Scholarship descriptions in their current state are obnoxiously ambiguous: are they awarded on cumulative or yearly rankings? Are courses taken under Arts and Science excluded? These particulars have significant implications for payout. Specifying criteria clearly improves student goals and levels the playing field.

This is particular true for the 12% from course-specific scholarships. One commerce award is rumoured to be based on the average of the 160-series courses. In my year, the grades spanned both percentages and GPA, making the entire process highly debatable. These idiosyncrasies need to be explained in advance. 

However the plunder is divided up, there will always be complaints, not least because the losers far outnumber the winners. It is, therefore, in the university's best interest to be methodical when determining awards and clear about how performance is measured. Transparency protects universities from sour students and accusations of favouritism. It protects the rights of donors and awards specific types of performance the university or the donor intends to award. Finally, it's fair.