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Outside Donations Should Not Become Internal Scholarships

Outside Donations Should Not Become Internal Scholarships

Early this February, I received a letter from the Student Financial Aid Office congratulating me as a recipient of a Haebler Scholarship. Naturally, I was honored by the award and excited about receiving much-needed aid for my education. As I read more, however, I was disappointed to learn that the scholarship was being used to reduce my MIT grant. The so-called scholarship reduced neither my current contribution to tuition nor my rapidly accumulating loans.

To add insult to injury, the office requested that I send a note of thanks to the donors. Miffed, I decided that my best course of action was inaction; I did not write the thank-you note. I had almost forgotten about the scholarship until last week, when I received a message from the Office of Communications and Donor Relations reminding me about the note.

Donations are unquestionably essential to the survival of MIT, and I thank the many donors for their contributions to our school. I certainly am pleased with the quality of my education here, and I realize that it would not be possible without alumni contributions. Currently, over 60 percent of MIT undergraduates require some sort of financial aid, and MIT's need-blind admissions policy relies on the generosity of those who make donations.

A scholarship, on the other hand, is a specific type of donation that is meant to award individual achievement. By essentially scattering the funds across the institution, MIT belittles the very achievement that the scholarship is intended to award. It would be senseless to award a donation intended for the community to an individual; similarly, it is senseless to award a scholarship to an institution.

The MIT policy on outside scholarships is clear - 40 percent of each scholarship is used to reduce student self-help, and 60 percent is used to reduce MIT grants. The Haebler Scholarship, however, is an inside scholarship, and the funds are given first to MIT. For these scholarships, the policy is clearly to use 100 percent to reduce MIT grants. Although this arrangement reduces the financial burden for all students, it provides very little real benefit to the recipient of the scholarships.

I do not mean to imply that I am in any way more deserving of financial awards than my peers. I do, however, urge MIT to stop extending these ghost scholarships. It is offensive to congratulate students for scholarships that they will not receive. I will write the thank you note to the altruistic donors, but I will thank them for their contribution to MIT, and not for the scholarship that never was.

Samuel T. Browning '97