Emma Cathers

It’s time to reform the merit scholarship system

October 5, 2022

Content warning: self-harm

UVM’s merit scholarships are in dire need of changes.

The University automatically considers out-of-state and international students for both the Presidential Scholarship and the Trustees Scholarship, according to the Student Financial Services’s website

The Trustees Scholarship is for students demonstrating “outstanding academic performance” and recipients receive around $4,000 to $15,000 annually.

The Presidential Scholarship is similar, but is for students demonstrating “the highest academic performance,” and they receive between $16,000 to $20,000 annually. 

Both of these scholarships provide amazing opportunities that cut down the costs for out-of-state and international students, and without these scholarships, many students would not be able to go to UVM.

However, these opportunities come with a caveat: “Maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0,” according to the UVM Scholarship Policies page. “Renewal eligibility is evaluated at the end of each spring term.”

There are three main issues with this requirement.

Firstly, it is unfair to have a consistent GPA requirement across all majors and schools. Certain majors, like chemistry, math and economics average a far lower GPA than many other subjects, reporting from CBS News,

People should not be discouraged from pursuing a subject they love solely because they would have to over-perform in order to keep their scholarship. 

This is one of the biggest issues with the rigid 3.0 requirement, as it holds different majors to vastly different standards of labor.

Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to this issue, because if majors had different GPA requirements, then students could change their majors to avoid losing their merit scholarship. 

Secondly, a 3.0 GPA is a B-average. There are many conditions out of students’ control that can negatively impact their grades. Medical issues, family issues and the time-consuming necessity of working, for some, are just the tip of the iceberg. 

First-years are especially susceptible to this, as they are adjusting to a whole new world of independence and challenges.

Keep in mind that with the scholarship’s current requirements, poor marks in any class could add $20,000 to next year’s tuition. 

It should also be noted that this puts a lot of stress on professors, as a harsh grade could end up forcing someone to drop out of college.

Lastly, by tying grades to tuition in this way, it may lead to an increased rate of academic dishonesty as students have the difficult choice between financial ruin or collegiate expulsion. 

Of course, UVM’s website lays out what happens should that 3.0 mark be missed: “Failure to meet the GPA requirement as of the end of a spring term will result in non-renewal of the scholarship for the following academic year.”

Whether or not you can financially afford to return to UVM should not be determined by the difference between a B and a B-.

Merit scholarships are given to UVM students in order to further their education, so it is questionable that renewed eligibility is determined by a hard and fast grade point average as opposed to any kind of holistic evaluation of poor academic performance. 

A holistic evaluation would be nothing new for UVM, as it is already used every year to review admissions. This initial evaluation includes things like grades, recommendations, essays and other parts of student life.

Considering UVM understands there is more to prospective students than just their high school GPAs, the same logic should apply once students are admitted.

Of course, important grades are always going to cause anxiety. Making the merit scholarship more holistic is not a cure-all, but it is the best solution available.

Doing this would take an immense amount of pressure off the backs of low-income students, as though many receive financial aid, these students also rely on the help that the merit scholarship provides.

The current GPA requirement sends out the message that UVM will only help low-income students who are academically flourishing.

One of my friends has personally experienced this, falling below the 3.0 requirement in the spring semester of his first year.

As a double STEM major while working nights as a bartender, it is my belief that nobody in his position could achieve a B-average while staying mentally healthy.

With other issues occurring in his life, coupled with the pressure of potentially losing the scholarship, he hurt himself and had to be taken to the hospital.

Thankfully, in response, he received a lot of help from professors and advisers to lighten his academic workload, and he ended up retaining his scholarship for the next year.

However, it should not take self-harm to reconsider the ramifications of having a universal GPA requirement.

I hope future UVM students can enjoy their first years without dooming themselves by being unable to afford sophomore year, and to ensure that, the merit scholarships should be redefined to consider that students have more merit than what a number can show.

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