The Student Financial Aid Debate: Who Should Pay?

The latest debate to take to the political platforms is the issue of financial aid, and whether it should center on need-based or merit-based criteria. The rising costs of tuition, as well as the statistics regarding low-income and high-income pass rates, have led to heated discussions on this issue, with both sides bringing forth their points of view on what has caused the current issues within many of the country’s higher education institutions. With these ideologies fueling the debate, the question remains: should financial aid continue to be distributed to needs-based students, and could this end up costing the average student a quality education?

The Argument For Pro Needs-Based Aid

According to Mark Kantrowitz, board member of the National Scholarship Providers Association, needs-based aid might very well contribute to the well being of the country. In his argument for the increased focus on this type of assistance, he states that these grants could have an effect on whether low-income, prospective college students get an education or not. Citing statistics from a census in 2009, he says that the rates of students who pass a 6-year undergraduate degree rise from 45% to 68% when the financial aid granted to low income students covers more than ¾ of the tuition fees.

During his argument, Kantrowitz also stated that low income students have to face a wide range of adversities during their studies, which means that they do not only have to focus on their courses- which is a privilege granted to higher income students- they also have to find ways to overcome social challenges, and the fact that they pass regardless of these obstacles reflects very positively on their abilities. Depriving these talented students of an education would mean depriving the nation of some of its most talented individuals, he claims, and to top it all off, he says he did not find any supporting evidence that an increase in these grants would lead to an increase in tuition fees; according to his research, from 1992 until 2006, the federal students loans did not increase their limits, although tuition rates continued to rise.

The Argument Against Needs Based Aid

Senior Fellow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in Indianapolis, Greg Forster believes that needs-based aid is a drain on the higher educational economy, which is why there should be a shift towards merit-based rewards, rather than contributing to the lowering of the academic standard, which is what he believes, is happening in institutions all over the country. Forster claims that institutions are putting the quality of their academic offerings at risk by relaxing their entrance requirements and handing out grants to students who have not proven their academic worth. In his opinion, these aids are being handed out too freely, and at the detriment of the students who earned their positions within these institutions.