Op-Ed column: Why aren’t academic scholarships keeping up with tuition costs?

By: Riley Brooks, Columnist

Originally published in print, November 2016.

As we all know, tuition prices across the country are skyrocketing. This isn’t a plea for free tuition–I’m not sure that people who call to “fight the fees” have thought about the quality of educators and education that free tuition will ‘pay’ for—but that’s an argument for another day.

I do, however, take issue with the lack of increase in academic awards and scholarship values as tuition has increased. This money is supposed to be incentive to work hard, to study, to apply yourself and be rewarded accordingly with a good chunk of money taken off of your tuition bill. I fully understand that scholarships and awards are something to be earned; but as tuition increases, that incentive to work for some tuition relief is shrinking rapidly.

Let’s take, for example, the most commonly awarded Deans’ Honour List award for achieving an average between 80 and 84.9 percent (although this still applies to the brilliant minds who achieve even higher marks, of course). Those who pull off an average between 80 and 84.9 percent are awarded $1000 dollars off of their tuition. Does this seem like a lot?

In fact, it’s not.

Look back to 2007, almost 10 years ago. Former Laurentianites were paying roughly $5000 for a year of tuition. These individuals would also earn just over $5000 in summer earnings, working 16 weeks at the 2007 minimum-wage rate. If they achieved the same 80 to 84.9 percent average ten years ago, they got the exact same $1000 off their tuition. The incentive was clear. Those who busted their little behinds at school would be rewarded with a noticeable reduction of 1/5th of their tuition.

Now, let’s look at 2016. The base tuition we pay is over $7000. After a full summer of working at the 2016 minimum wage and not spending a single cent, many of us cannot come close to affording tuition on our own. We are supposed to find reprieve in the notion that if we really go above and beyond to achieve a stellar average, the tuition monster will take it a little easier on us.

But what kind of incentive is $1000? Let me clarify: how is 1/7th off of our tuition a fair reward for putting forth the exact same effort people before us did to get 1/5th or more off of theirs? At the end of our three or four years, we’re all getting the same ridiculously expensive piece of paper, aren’t we? Now, barring you don’t have post-undergrad goals that require a stellar GPA, is all your extra effort required to achieve over an 80 average really reflected in the shilling or two that comes off our tuition?

These awards used to be an incentive to work harder than most of your classmates so that your tuition bill became a little more manageable. The world has only become a more expensive place. Tuition is something that not many of us can afford as it is—and frankly, 1/7th off is not good enough. Sure, any award is better than none, but if the award is supposed to be merit-based, then it should reflect the effort required.

These awards should be worth a percentage of our tuition, not a fixed value to remain unchanging over decades while tuition continues to inflate. Every August when we receive that dreaded statement of account email, we should be patting ourselves on the back for working so hard and receiving a good chunk off our tuition.

Instead, we’re all trying to figure out how the hell we’re going to afford school.