A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a good friend of mine and fellow TD Scholar Jasmeet Sidhu for a piece she was writing about scholarships. The article just came out, and I think she did a really good job. Check it out:
Based on the comments available on the Toronto Star website and things I have heard from friends, it seems this article has stirred up a bit of controversy – and unfortunately, some of it based on a misunderstanding of some of the scholarship programs.
One misconception is based on the numbers thrown around in the article. The huge six figure scholarship amounts mentioned were what a student was offered in total from various universities and private organizations – this is very different from what a student actually received to put towards post-secondary education. It seems some readers think that there are students selfishly pocketing amounts that could buy a house. This doesn’t happen for a few reasons. One is that you can only go to one university, so any scholarships offered from other universities cannot be accepted. Furthermore, most of the major private scholarships (e.g. Loran, TD, etc.) have stipulations that restrict the total amount of scholarship money you can receive (because they also believe in making sure scholarship recipients only receive approximately what’s required to cover a university experience, and nothing more, so that other students can benefit from the funding available).
Since I am mentioned in the article, I might as well use myself as an example. The Star article correctly states that I was offered over $200,000 in scholarships from many different sources – TD, Millennium, and several major university scholarships. What did I actually receive? $52,500 in total, which was put towards my three years of undergrad studies at York for biology, and my first year of medical school (since the TD scholarship supports your first four years of undergraduate studies). Although the value of the TD scholarship is valued up to $60,000, I received a total of $47,500 from them because undergraduate science tuition is not as expensive as say engineering. I also accepted $5,000 total from other sources (TD has a restriction that you can accept up to $5,000 in scholarships from other sources). $52,500 is a very significant amount and I am very grateful for the generous support I have received from these scholarship programs and institutions.
There remains controversy over the different types of funding available. Some scholarships are based more on financial need. On the other end of the spectrum are purely merit based scholarships, which are the ones being mentioned in the article. There are also many in between that consider both financial need and merit.
The purpose of merit-based scholarship programs are to identify young people with certain traits, experiences and/or potential that these institutions/programs want to invest in. As an example, a large scholarship program like the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership wants to invest in young people who they feel will be able to better continue serving their community with less of a financial burden. You also have post-secondary institutions offering scholarships based on merit, whether it be application-based ones looking at an entire student profile or the entrance scholarships offered automatically based on academic merit (grades) – post-secondary institutions do so because they are a centres of academia, and want to attract certain students to their own institutions versus others. The fact is that the programs and institutions who offer merit-based funding do so for specific reasons they believe in and for reasons that they believe benefit their personal interests. A post-secondary institution isn’t going to suddenly stop offering scholarships and putting all of their funding into bursaries because then a lot of students they would like to attract will go to other institutions that make them better offers.
Like most systems, the post-secondary funding one is not perfect at all ends of the spectrum. There is limited funding, and the funding is allocated based on competing interests and imperfect information. For example, you can have students who are in financial need but can’t get it because their parents are well off but choose not to support them.
What should be done? It’s hard to say. But before coming to any conclusion, I think it’s important to recognize all perspectives in place and all the competing interests they come from.