The University of Oklahoma enrolls more National Merit scholars than any other public university, leaving some to question the role of academic scholarships.
“......We give scholarships for athletic achievement, so why not for academic achievement?” said Mr. Boren, a Yale graduate and former Rhodes scholar. “I want them to get the kind of opportunity at home that they would get in the Ivy League.”
In fact, many Honors College students say that they could have gone to the some of the nation’s most selective colleges, but came here looking for some of the same experience at a fraction of the price. Thomas Owens, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, said he was accepted to Duke University, where tuition and fees top $55,000. “My family could have managed it,” he said, “but this was so much less of a burden, it’s amazing.”
The university charges $17,087.50 per year for tuition, fees, room and board, for students from Oklahoma, and $28,724.50 for out-of-state students. Officials said the price for National Merit scholars varies, but is less than half as much.
Oklahoma’s program touches on a long-running argument within higher education, about the role of “merit aid” — scholarships that schools give on the basis of credentials like grades, test scores or musical skills — versus the aid that nearly all schools give on the basis of a student’s financial need. Most colleges give some academic merit aid (though some of the wealthiest and most selective schools do not), and the amount has increased over the years as competition for top students grows more fierce. Oklahoma’s honors program is an extreme example.
“There are those, me included, who say the purpose of aid should be to help people go to college who might not be able to otherwise,” said Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “Giving merit scholarships to kids who would have been going to college anyway can benefit the institution without necessarily benefiting the broader public.....”