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AlumNews: Talon Articles

New scholarship strategy causes debate

Friday, September 21, 2007  
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By Jed Lovejoy

Many faculty members agree with the philosophy that scholarship money at Oklahoma Christian University needs to be distributed more evenly among students. However, there is a controversy over the new scholarship policy and the uncertainty of how it will impact the performing arts.

“Anytime you start to make changes, there will be concerns. All departments probably should have some level of concern as to how it will affect their programs,” Allison Garrett vice president of academic affairs said.

The changes are the result of a three-year long study into Oklahoma Christian’s above average scholarship expenses. The research focused on how the university spent its scholarship dollars in ways other private Church of Christ schools were not.

Oklahoma Christian administrators hired Scannell & Kurz, a private consulting firm, to help gain an outside view on their scholarship problem. This firm has recently helped Abilene Christian University and Lipscomb University re-evaluate their scholarship strategies.

“What they told us is that we have very aggressive merit-based scholarships, but aren’t very strong with our ‘need’-based scholarship programs, and too much money was going to too few students,” the Vice President for Finance/Jeff Bingham said.

The Oklahoma Christian Financial Department has implemented a plan to remedy these problems using the suggestions made by Scannell & Kurz.

The major change will be the elimination of all departmental merit scholarships and the $1,000 departmental scholarships.

Officials will move the extra money into two large categories: ACT awards and ‘need’-based grants.

The only scholarships that will not be affected will be private grants and endowments that have been given to Oklahoma Christian with explicit instructions for their use.

“These changes will allow those in the highest need groups to have the opportunity to get more scholarship and grant support than they have received the past few years,” Bingham said.

This system will eliminate the department’s confusion and frustration of trying to determine a student’s financial needs by have less responsibility on the department chair and more responsibility falling into the hands of the financial aid department.

“It’s very, very difficult to figure out what perspective students have in terms of need. It’s one thing to figure out merit fairly well, but as the consultants showed, we were doing a pretty poor job of figuring out need,” the Distinguished Professor of History John Maple said. “I didn’t have access to FAFSA, so I didn’t have any idea if a student’s family made $50,000 or $100,000. It was virtually impossible for me to do what my mandate was, which was to use the scholarship money delegated to my department to entice students to come.”

Incoming students will receive an additional $2,000 in ACT awards each year. Administrators will determine ‘need’-based scholarships by evaluating each student’s FAFSA. The estimated family contribution will be a major category of consideration.

The increase in the ACT scholarship amount will make Oklahoma Christian much more competitive with other private Church of Christ universities.

The Average ACT scores at Oklahoma Christian has raised to a score of 24.

“You can’t tell the potential of a student based on their ACT scores,” the Associate Professor of Speech and Theater Phil Reagan said.

This is the major point of discussion for professors and students in various liberal arts departments because the elimination of performance-based scholarships will affect them the most.

“In art and music you often don’t get students who have tremendously high ACTs, yet they have performance talent. The explanation from Jeff Bingham was basically they would look at the need component and try to make up for a lower merit component, like the ACT score, with a larger ‘need’ section,” Maple said.

Students in the visual arts, music, theater and communication often receive scholarships based on their performance or technical abilities. In the past, professors evaluated students on existing portfolios or performance auditions.

“Students in the liberal arts are receiving scholarships because of their performance skills or their abilities in areas aside from academics,” Reagan said. “Scholarships are based on what the student is able to do or how innovative they are, not necessarily their scholastic abilities.”

Professors are concerned that the new changes will cause them to loose students who would normally have participated in their departments.

“Of course in the performance kinds of areas, music, athletics and so on, we perhaps have a greater concern than some other departments,” the Chair of the Music Department John Fletcher said.

The financial department is forming a strategy for greater cooperation between themselves and the liberal arts departments. Departments in the arts will have to work more closely with financial aid to express interest in certain students.

“If we are able to connect with the departments earlier in the recruitment cycle we can make sure that grants [are] specified for the department,” Bingham said. “We hope to add some dimension of merit recognition to the scholarship awards.”

Past merit scholarships have included expectations of participation, but the new system will have no such expectations. Since the new scholarships will not be totally governed by individual departments, financial aid will rely on department chairs to request such inclusions.

Greater cooperation will also prevent the problem with delays in scholarship awards from previous years.

“Last year our scholarship process drug out and drug out and I had such difficulty in getting people to submit paperwork and was pushing May before we made our final awards,” Maple said. “A lot of people were going with the old cliché, ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,’ and we were losing students to other campuses since they were making awards in February.”

With Fall Visit around the corner, the professors have changed their recruitment strategies.

Some even had to modify the way their visit had been set up for the past 20 years or more.

Since the new policy eliminates the one-year scholarships Maple had to notify potential students that there would be no scholarship award for the test that had traditionally been given during Fall Visit.

The theater and music department will still hold auditions if requested by students, but will be unable to give direct offerings on any form of scholarship.

These changes are causing confusion for many faculty members because of a breakdown in communication with the administration. Many professors did not even find out about these changes until one or two weeks ago.

“The scholarship strategy is already out there, we just haven’t known about it,” Reagan said. “I learned that the language and literature department didn’t know about it until this week. I had not known about it until the first faculty/staff meeting last week. It is news to all of us.”

However, these changes have been in place since the spring and university officials have even printed them in all the new recruitment materials.

“Faculty chairs were a part of the study with our consultants in May, and were also invited to the meeting with the consultants to share their report in August. Because the full faculty was not on campus until school started, this week [Sept. 9-15] represented the first opportunity to visit with the entire group,” Bingham said.

Despite fears among faculty about possible problems with the new system, current students can rest easy knowing that the changes will not affect their financial aid package or scholarship awards.

Only incoming students will be affected.

Photo by Jonathan Cannon

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