Need-based aid should substantially increase

I glanced down at my ringing phone to see a Tuscaloosa area code: “Miss Alexandria, we would like to inform you that you have been chosen as a recipient of a scholarship through the college of Arts and Sciences.” Tears instantly began streaming down my face.

The University of Alabama has always been my dream school, though it never became even a viable option until literally months before the beginning of my college career. I wasn’t one of those kids who scored a 30+ on their ACT, and my mother bluntly told me she could just never afford to send me to the University. Luckily enough, I have extended family who are incredibly invested in Alabama football and have been dying to see me twirl in red sequins on Bryant-Denny Field since I was a little girl. Once earning a spot on the Crimsonette line, they offered to contribute to my college fund as well. After taking out a couple of loans and receiving that need-based scholarship as well as a few others, it was decided my dream was actually going to come true. I had applied for every scholarship I could get my hands on. In my mind every little bit helped, and the need-based scholarship I received my freshman year took a tremendous weight off my shoulders.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t stop and think about just how blessed I am to be where I am. Sadly, there are a number of students who attend this University who are in situations far worse than the one I’m in. And those phone calls are not frequent enough. The University spends a whopping $80 million a year on scholarships and grants for students through merit-based scholarships, and this is excluding athletic scholarships. Only half this amount is delegated toward need-based aid.

I understand the University’s obvious reason behind the large allocation of money toward merit-based scholarships – to draw in out-of-state students. I’m certainly an advocate of expanding and changing culture. However, being one of the poorest states in the nation, our university needs to increase the amount of need-based scholarships and grants offered. There are grossly fewer opportunities for students who need it the most to receive a scholarship.

Just because a student was unable to spend $700 on an ACT prep class and didn’t receive an incredibly high score does not mean that that student will not excel at the University. It simply means that they need a little more help getting started. The University should be able to not only pride itself in the plethora of financial aid it provides to merit scholars, but also to scholars who didn’t have that defined path – scholars who are determined and dedicated, and offer an interesting perspective on the world because of the experiences they have had.

It’s often stated that if you work hard enough you can overcome any type of barrier or situation, yet how can our society have this sort of expectation when the opportunities for these individuals don’t even exist. If we are going to continue to limit the spending of need-based scholarships, then we should at least broaden the criteria of merit. Perhaps we should focus less on numbers and scores and more on the basis of an application that takes into account part-time work experience, family caretaker obligations and overcoming adversity. It’s time we begin to take into account the massive displays of perseverance and strength that ultimately define a person – not just their test scores.

Alex Smith is a sophomore majoring in political science. Her column runs biweekly.

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