funds could be freed up to address each student’s unique need, rather than
several million dollars being committed to a grades-based program with
nebulous returns. “We do it because every other university does it,” says
the manager, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is calling on the Ontario government to stipulate that institutional operating funds be used
only for needs-based student financial aid, not for merit-based scholarships. Research that OUSA, an alliance of eight student associations, published in 2014 says that most students received a merit-based scholarship,
but those whose family income was below $25,000 received the lowest
amount. The highest-income students averaged $547 more.
Part-timers and students with dependents are among the students
who fare the worst in securing entrance scholarships, says Jamie Cleary,
OUSA’s immediate past-president. That’s because the eligibility criteria
favour students freshly out of high school who enrol in full-time studies.
The student alliance plans to raise the issue in Ontario’s next round of
tuition framework consultations.
Mr. Usher, the higher education consultant, has mused in the past that
governments could put an end to this automatic entrance-scholarships
“arms race” that no one likes but no one wants to be the first to quit.
However, more recently, he said that a government move on this front
is unlikely: “The politics of ‘stop charging those students so little’ is not
going to wash anywhere.”
still, after more than 20 years battling in the entrance scholarship
trenches, and faced with changing finances and recruitment objectives,
some universities have been adapting their programs on their own.
The University of New Brunswick spends $2.5 million annually on
entrance scholarships, funded equally by operating and endowment money. However, it eliminated automatic entrance scholarships over the past
five years. About half of the incoming class still receives a scholarship, but
students must submit a scholarship application to be considered.
Under the previous automatic system, the entrance scholarship became “an expectation,” says Victoria Sparkes, director of undergraduate
awards. And scholarships remain a top reason for students choosing UNB,
she adds, contrary to the results of the survey conducted by Academica
“Our statistics support the feedback we’ve had, which is that the program is being received very positively and our refusal rates [to offers of
admission] have actually decreased, which is what you want to see,” says
Similarly, the University of Toronto’s main campus used to award
$2,000 automatically to students entering with a grade average higher
than 92 percent (in addition to other scholarships students may have
applied for and won). U of T ended those scholarships as of this fall, using
the money for a one-time, $7,500 award for 500 to 700 incoming students across all campuses, called UT Scholars; the mark cut-off is higher
than previously and is determined by the student’s program. U of T’s two
suburban campuses in Mississauga and Scarborough continue to offer
automatic scholarships to students with a lower grade minimum.
In total, U of T is spending roughly $15 million on entrance scholarships, compared to $87 million to meet financial need for all students,
says Richard Levin, executive director, enrolment services and university
registrar at U of T.
Mr. Levin says the previous way of doing things was expensive and,
according to recruiters and admissions staff, “students were finding it re-
ally wasn’t enough money to make a difference. For some students, any
award is some level of prestige, but we just didn’t see that reflected in the
decision to choose us or not to choose us.”
For similar reasons, the University of British Columbia eliminated
“automatics” in 2012. It reinvested the $6.1 million dedicated to these
entrance scholarships into other forms of support, such as its Go Global
international experience and work-study programs. Last fall, UBC used
donor and institution money to create the Centennial Scholars program,
giving up to $10,000 a year to 100 domestic, academically qualified stu-
dents with financial need. Ten of them receive a “full ride” scholarship of
up to $20,000 a year to cover tuition fees and living expenses, address-
ing the issue that free tuition isn’t always enough to persuade students to
change their school choice. If accepting an award means moving to a new
city, students can still be left in deficit if their living costs aren’t covered.
“We were able to achieve the diversity goal we were striving for in
terms of [students] coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and
all different backgrounds,” says Kate Ross, UBC’s registrar and associate
vice-president, enrolment services, who has personally donated to Centennial Scholars. “They are a wonderfully fascinating group of young people. Our plan is to continue to build that.”
“A school’s reputation for academic
excellence and good student experience
is valued far more highly by students
than an entrance scholarship.”