Also about five years ago, neighbouring Simon Fraser University
hiked its cut-off marks for automatic scholarships to an average above 95
percent. This led to fewer automatic awards with a higher value, $5,000,
for one year. But the school’s data showed that this wasn’t making a difference. Even a $12,000 scholarship over two years wasn’t changing the
minds of top-tier students who hadn’t already made SFU their first choice.
“We said, ‘ We’re not thrilled with the outcomes and we also don’t think
that it’s well-aligned with our approach to recruitment,’” says Rummana
Khan Hemani, SFU’s registrar and executive director, student enrolment.
SFU wanted to attract a greater diversity of students, but its traditional
scholarship criteria – stratospheric marks, extracurricular and community service participation – seemed to discriminate against worthy students
who were less privileged and hadn’t had the same opportunities to acquire all the typical CV extras.
This fall, SFU plans to unveil a radically different program to address
both problems – attracting the best students and attracting more diverse,
worthy students. The program will offer flexibility to tweak things as
needed. Minimum GPA renewal criteria will be eased so that students
don’t feel under extreme pressure to maintain high marks, a common concern with renewable scholarships, say some observers and researchers.
“We want to be able to level the playing field,” says Ms. Hemani.
“We want a good mix of students and what we don’t want is a scholarship
program that only benefits the privileged.” Non-monetary perks will be
part of SFU’s new package.
Increasingly, non-monetary benefits are found at other schools too.
McGill University traditionally offered its automatic scholarships only to
very high-achieving students (currently a one-time, $3,000-scholarship
to students averaging above 95 percent), but it also guarantees recipients’
first choice of residence and gives them front-of-the-line course registration privileges. It has added an optional mentorship program this year,
pairing recipients with McGill alumni.
The University of Windsor, serving a predominantly local catchment,
has had an Outstanding Scholars program since 2002, pitched at the top
100 students in the incoming class. The cash reward is small – $1,500 in
the first year, and that may eventually be eliminated – but the program provides something scholars, faculty and even students view as more valuable:
the opportunity to work on paid research projects with a U of Windsor
faculty member after first year. In this way, students can earn up to $1,500
a semester and gain priceless research experience for their CV.
Percentage of students who cited these factors as
influencing which school they chose to enrol in
The school’s academic reputation 76%
The school’s reputation for good
student experience 74%
The reputation of my program at school 72%
The classroom environment 60%
The school’s location 53%
Work-integrated learning opportunities 50%
Financial supports available 49%
Whether or not I was eligible for a
scholarship at the school 39%
The size of the campus 20%
Source: “Do your school’s entrance awards make the grade?”
Academica Group, January 31, 2017
Andrea Yzeiri, a U of Windsor business and political science student,
hasn’t yet graduated but her name is on a co-authored abstract, thanks to
her Outstanding Scholars placement with management science professor
Mohammed Fazle Baki. She presented the research, about a tool to pinpoint inefficiencies in the healthcare industry, with Dr. Baki at an international conference on industrial engineering and operations management
in Detroit last fall. As a result of the experience, she’s considering pursuing a doctorate.
“How many universities can we say are giving top [undergraduate]
students the opportunity to do research with faculty?” she says. “This pro-
gram has changed my life and changed my outlook on where I want my
education to go.”
Programs like these are ways that universities can give themselves an
edge when it comes to competing for the students they most want, says Mr.
Usher of HESA. Putting some of the money tagged for scholarships into
student support and other services may also help, something the survey
report suggested, too. Such support could include reduced residence fees
and early acceptance to work-study positions. “You want to get undergrad-
uate students? Tell them that you’ve got their back,” says Mr. Usher.
People interviewed for this story don’t envision an end to automatic
entrance scholarships but they say these awards may diminish in impor-
tance. Universities that have already made changes to their programs say
that those who want to build a case for change should examine their re-
cruiting and take-up data to understand what’s working and what’s not.
With that data in hand, scholarship offerings can be designed to respond to a university’s special circumstances, whether it’s a large well-known university competing internationally for Ivy League-ready students or a small institution among several others, all recruiting students
from the same region. The changing nature of undergraduate students has
to be taken into account, and students’ needs and desires may vary among
international students, Indigenous students and students who are the first
in their family to attend university.
“The scholarship should help an institution attract that student to
come,” sums up Ms. Hemani at SFU. “If you can’t do that with your scholarship and you have to go down to the 10th student on the list, you’ve got
to figure out what’s going on.”