100+ colleges got an “A” for scholarship transparency. Is yours among them?

"Regretfully, families will continue to be at a major disadvantage if colleges are not transparent about their ultimate net cost," one college planning CEO says.

The colleges that rank highest for the most transparent merit scholarships provide clear, easily accessible information on the awards and the criteria they use, according to a new analysis. These leading schools also figure merit scholarships into their Net Price Calculator projections.

Colleges face no transparency requirements in issuing merit-based scholarships, “leaving each college to decide how upfront or opaque it wants to be,” according to the “CAP Report Card” released by College Aid Pro, a college planning technology platform. Understanding how to pay for college has become increasingly difficult due to “the increasing complexity in which colleges advertise and discount this cost” to students and families, said Kevin Degnan, CEO of College Aid Pro. “Regretfully, families will continue to be at a major disadvantage if colleges are not transparent about their ultimate net cost,” Degnan added.

About 650 schools were graded based on the clarity of requirements and award amounts, as well as consistency in the application process. Evaluators reviewed the colleges’ websites and published scholarship criteria and award letters, among other factors. Some 107 schools (17%) received A’s while 83 got F’s because they share “only minimal guidance on merit aid, leaving applicants in the dark about possible scholarships until they receive their award letter,” the report said.

Here’s a closer look at CAP’s grading standards:

  • A: Merit scholarship amounts—rather than “wide dollar ranges”—are clearly specified and well-defined criteria are posted on school websites.
  • B: Some merit qualification guidance is provided but merit scholarship amounts and criteria are not clearly disclosed on school websites.
  • C: Basic information on merit opportunities is available with a wide range of possible amounts and only some automatic or semi-automatic scholarship criteria are specified.
  • D: Limited merit information is provided on either award amounts or the criteria used, but not both, or the school offers only competitive scholarships.
  • F: Only automatic, semi-automatic, or competitive scholarships are detailed on their websites. No “meaningful” information on award amounts or selection criteria is provided.

“In simple terms, our grading system rewards the colleges and universities that make it easy on potential applicants to determine if they will be eligible for merit-based awards and how much those awards will be,” the analysis says. “The schools that withhold this information until the award letter goes out, removing the family’s ability to plan accordingly, receive correspondingly poor marks.”

Where colleges stand on merit-based scholarships

Weber State University, with a cost of attendance of about $30,000, got an A for clearly outlining merit scholarship requirements and award amounts in graphic form on its website. The public university in Utah also includes merit scholarships in its Net Price Calculator projections. On the other hand, a public university in Ohio—where the cost of attendance is about $55,000—earned a C for sharing some requirement information and awarding semi-automatic merit scholarships. The school was marked down for providing a wide range for the amounts of the awards.

And a private university in New York, where the cost of attendance is above $80,000, got an F because it awards semi-automatic merit scholarships but does not specify the requirements or award amounts on its website.

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Here are the colleges and universities that earned an “A” for merit award transparency: Arizona State University-Tempe, Auburn University, Augustana University, Austin College, Baldwin Wallace University, Ball State University, Biola University, Calvin University, Carroll College, Central College, Central Michigan University, Christian Brothers University, College of Saint Benedict, Concordia College at Moorhead, Concordia University-Saint Paul, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Covenant College, Dakota State University, Dominican University of California, Eastern Washington University, Ferris State University, Gordon College, Grand Valley State University, Hanover College, Hope College, Iowa State University, John Brown University, Kansas State University, Lake Forest College, Louisiana Tech University, Marshall University, Minnesota State University-Mankato, Mississippi State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Montana State University, Murray State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico State University, North Dakota State University, Northern Illinois University, Northern Kentucky University, Norwich University, Oklahoma State University-Main Campus, Oregon Institute of Technology, Point Loma Nazarene University, Rockhurst University, Saint Martin’s University, Simpson College, South Dakota State University, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Southern Oregon University, Southwestern University, SUNY College at Geneseo, Taylor University, Texas State University, Texas Tech University, The College of Saint Scholastica, The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, The University of Montana Missoula, The University of Tennessee Knoxville, The University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Texas at Tyler, The University of West Florida, Trevecca Nazarene University, Truman State University, Union University, University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Arizona, University of Central Arkansas, University of Central Missouri, University of Central Oklahoma, University of Evansville, University of Idaho, University of Illinois at Springfield, University of Kansas, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, University of Mary Washington, University of Massachusetts-Boston, University of Memphis, University of Minnesota-Crookston, University of Minnesota-Morris, University of Mississippi, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of New Hampshire, University of New Mexico, University of North Dakota, University of Northern Colorado, University of Oklahoma-Norman, University of Oregon, University of Southern Mississippi, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, University of Wyoming, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Valparaiso University, Wabash College, Washington & Jefferson College, Weber State University, West Texas A&M, Western Michigan University, Westmont College, William Carey University and Wittenberg University.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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