Editorial: Give aid to students, not only schools

Colleges should give needy students financial aid, but should they receive a financial award in return? A foundation in northern Virginia thinks so. 

This month, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awarded Vassar College a $1 million prize for supporting high-performing, low-income students. The Foundation will award the same sum annually to a college or university that consistently enrolls and graduates low-income achievers, according to The New York Times.

Although the Cooke Foundation aims to benefit low-income students, the foundation could better allocate the $1 million if it gives it to accomplished underprivileged students. Colleges and universities should extend welcome and affordable admission to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Why should we award schools for doing exactly what they should be doing, especially in today’s higher education climate of skyrocketing tuition and enormous student debt? 

Rather than giving colleges large cash prizes, foundations and institutions should invest in individual students, even before they enter college. We cannot ignore the root of the education accessibility problem for the socioeconomically underprivileged. Students from poorer backgrounds and communities usually do not have the academic and extracurricular resources to stand out on college applications that their more affluent counterparts often have. 

So, foundations should invest in more programs to provide high school students with extracurricular leadership, academic, musical and sporting activities. If poorer students gained access to more test preparation, more tutoring, more music lessons or more athletic competition, they would be more attractive as college candidates and would thus fare better in the college admissions process. It doesn’t matter if a school offers financial aid if those who need it most can’t achieve admission.

If foundations only put their money toward universities, they would merely create more competition among already-competitive higher education institutions. That competition, we believe, should be between the individual students, and at a younger age, so that they may thrive and gain admission to more colleges that they choose. Education accessibility for the socioeconomically underprivileged is an investment for prosperity tomorrow. We must focus our investment on an individual level, so that we may afford each individual a realistic chance of educational and professional success.