Are Merit Scholarships Ethical?
It’s as American as apple pie and ADHD: If you study hard and earn straight A’s, you should earn a scholarship. Why should you pay? You’re raising the bar for everyone else. And a school would be lucky to have you, right?
Then again, someone inevitably pays for your scholarship. And don’t assume that bill lands on the taxpayers. In many cases, it is your fellow students footing the bill. That’s right: They’re waitressing and telemarketing evenings and weekends for the pleasure of your company. Usually, they’re the same people who are digging themselves into debt to earn the degree you’re getting for free.
Doesn’t sound like such a good deal now, does it?
Don’t worry, those guilty feelings won’t last long. If anything, you can blame “the system.” And how does that system work? That’s the subject of a new Forbes online column by Michael Krauss, a professor of law at George Mason University.
According to Krauss, many law students don’t pay “list price” for their education. If you earn top marks, you pay less. When schools give discounts, they lure the top students. But don’t assume law schools are giving away money for the greater social good. It is a bottom-line business – and better students mean bigger dollars.
How? Look no further than the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which give heavy weight to undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores. The better the student body, the higher these schools are ranked. And when their rank goes up, they attract even better students… enabling them to charge higher tuitions (and do away with scholarships altogether).
You almost wonder if P.T. Barnum’s true calling was becoming a law school dean.
Of course, employers love this system. According to Krauss, “…the student body at a higher ranked school tends to be ‘better’ than the student body at a lower-ranked school. Employers can use school rank as a proxy in making employment decisions—schools are a convenient aggregation of students of a given talent level.” As a result, law schools produce a snowball effect that benefits only a given few:
“The upshot of all this is that, at most law schools, price discrimination results in poorer, less well-educated students ‘subsidizing’ (paying higher tuition than) richer, better-educated students. For their subsidy, poorer students are penalized a second time at graduation—because the subsidized richer students will tend to finish at the top of the class and get better paying jobs, while the poorer students will find it harder and harder to find employment to pay for their higher student loans. Thus are ‘list price’ payers made to seem to be chumps over and over again, while the recipients of merit scholarships laugh, as it were, all the way to the bank… This looks in many ways like a classic regressive tax.”
Alas, this article is long on analysis and short on solutions. Let’s face it: Stocking classes is the equivalent of an arms race. After one school steps outside the norm, its peers will inevitably follow. Krauss does cite the University of Laverne College of Law as a potential solution. Here, every student receives a $39,900 fixed price. But let’s face it: No one wants to pay list price. And people love to haggle and notch a special deal. Krauss adds that the ABA is unlikely to step in. Even if U.S. News removes GPAs and LSATs from their criteria, another ranking would be happy to use it in their place.
So we end up back where we started. As Krauss slyly notes, with more students taking the LSAT, law school administrators may be spared any real soul-searching.
And so this virtuous (or vicious) cycle begins anew…
Video of the Week
Law School Waitlist Advice
Source: Admissions Consultants