January 28th, 2012
11:16 AM ET

Letters to the President #1104: 'So who gets the scholarships'

Reporter's Note: The president has often talked about education.  I’m wondering in today’s letter if there are some other lessons he might consider. 

Dear Mr. President,

I noticed your speech the other day about holding down the cost of college.  Heaven knows there are plenty of families who will cheer for that idea.  But for all your concern about offering affordable education to the neediest students, I am rather surprised that I so seldom hear you talk about the best students.

Please hear me out.  I fully understand the need to make sure that, just because someone is poor, he or she does not get cut out of a higher education, especially if that child shows special talents.  But what about middle class families?  Many schools seem to make it a  point of pride to say, “Oh, no, we would never give a scholarship based on talent, intelligence, or dedication…we only answer to need.”

And yet, if we are to be the great, extraordinarily, globally competitive nation that you want us to be, shouldn’t we be trying everyday in every way to get the very best students into the very best schools, and rewarding their work, no matter what kind of families those kids come from?  After all, there are plenty of middle class families who do not qualify as needy, and yet can’t necessarily afford the top schools…especially with tuition soaring as you have noted.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems as if some balance needs to be restored.  Sure, we should tell poor kids who try hard and show talent that we’ll find a way for them to get more education; but if we value our economic survival, it appears that we must also make sure that the smartest kids also get an unmistakable message; hard work and talent pay off.

Here is another way of looking at it.  Athletic programs award scholarships all day long based on talent alone.  If you are a top recruit for quarterback, no school is going to pull the offer off of the table just because Mom and Dad make enough money to be considered middle class or more.  Why shouldn’t academic programs do the same?  Certainly we should want our smartest students in the best schools, as much as we want wide ends and long snappers.

Just some thoughts for a windy Saturday.


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