Students who are accepted into Penn State University’s prestigious honors college get more than academic feathers in their caps. They get $3,500 annual merit scholarships.
But given the tough economic times, the school is making an unusual request: Would parents consider donating that money back?
The fundraising appeal for Schreyer Honors College leans on parents who have not applied for financial aid for their children, encouraging them to share their good fortune with needier students. It appears to be working. The first appeal to 75 families last year raised about $228,000.
“I have not heard of this kind of an approach before,” said Lee Andes, president of the
National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs. “It doesn’t surprise me to hear people getting creative.”
Some schools and states have tightened criteria for merit aid or eliminated it altogether to focus on students with the most need. The University of Texas at Austin plans next fall to withdraw from the National Merit Scholarship Program, which relies solely on standardized test scores to choose semifinalists and has been criticized for steering money to students who don’t necessarily need it most.
Still, merit aid helps colleges lure top students and improve their rankings and reputations. Penn State is continuing the scholarships but hoping to persuade recipients’ parents to return the favor.