Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tricky balance

In this recent post on The Choice, Pamela Horne from Purdue University says that awarding merit aid is about helping the institution, not rewarding the student. It’s nice to see that kind of honesty. It is true at some level, isn’t it? Institutions set aside scholarship funds in order to reward students…whose enrollment benefits the institution.

It’s the tricky balance we aim to strike in admissions and scholarship. Is our job to do what is best for the applicant or for the institution? Sure, it works out great when the applicant who really wants that offer of admission is a student you’d love to enroll or the applicant (and/or their parents) who thinks they are deserving of a scholarship is actually deserving of a scholarship.

That’s the easy work.

But what happens when you don’t think offering admission would be best for the applicant or best for the institution? Or best for both? What happens when what would be best for an applicant—namely to get out of their current situation and into one of our excellent schools—is not what would be best for our school?

On the surface it sounds harsh but the reality is that we are not serving our schools (or our current students for that fact) if we offer admission out of pity, out of false hope, or simply because we like a kid and/or their parents. If that kid is going to struggle, if we are not able to meet their needs, or if we feel we can not be partners with the parents, then we have to say no for the sake of our school. And for the sake of that applicant.

Inappropriately admitted kids are a drain on resources, are taxing to teachers, and can negatively impact the experience of our other students. Furthermore, inappropriately admitted applicants can result in that student having academic if not also personal set-backs. Issues of confidence and self-esteem are quite tender and fragile at certain ages. And when that kid does not return for a second year, we have set them up to move on to their third school in three years. Not healthy. Not helpful.

Who doesn’t want to help kids? Who wishes they could find appropriate homes for all applicants? Who hates being the mean guy or the bad cop? We all do. But we do it because it’s our job.

It’s not always pretty.

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