Rethinking awards

Rethinking awards

Photo by Trisha Handrich

Photo by Trisha Handrich

Most of you are probably familiar with the academic scholarships at Goshen College: Kratz, Grebel, Yoder, Wens, Menno Simons and the President’s Leadership Award (PLA).

I would also guess that everyone appreciates whatever amount they have received. I am thankful for what I’ve received, but I believe Goshen College should review its policies and strategies on scholarships – specifically the PLA.

The idea behind the PLA is appropriate – reward the top 3-5 percent of each incoming class and ensure the best leaders and academicians come to Goshen. I believe the intentions of this scholarship are just and very reasonable. The PLA should continue in some form, but downsides exist.

I’m not hating on the PLA winners here. I love you all, but I disagree with the implementation of the PLA.

The requirements to apply are very high, which ensure that the PLA applicants are all superb students and great leaders. Unfortunately, the difference in leadership ability and academic achievement between the winners and the “non-winners” is very small. This small range between top and bottom leaves human judgment as the main separation factor and can keep non-winners from attending Goshen and/or souring their image of Goshen.

Related to this issue is the publicity and “big deal” that is associated with the PLA. We bring the applicants to Goshen, roll out the red carpet and have a banquet to celebrate the weekend. These actions tend to build up expectations and hopes when the applicants’ real chances of winning are very small, which is yet another way to leave applicants with bad images of Goshen.

If we get 60 or 90 or 120 applicants who meet such high academic standards, don’t we want them all to come to Goshen? Or at least a very high percentage of them?

Sure, the PLA isn’t a deciding factor for all, but one would imagine that we miss out on some students due to the previous reasons. Surely Goshen has some sort of moral obligation or incentive to give more equity to these applicants.

I don’t know exactly what would solve this issue and bring all PLA applicants to Goshen, but I have a few ideas:

  • downplay the PLA (less PLA weekend activity)
  • make it more challenging to apply for
  • lower the applicant numbers to 10-30
  • dole out 1-5 scholarships

The school could then award all applicants an intermediate scholarship, higher than the Menno Simons award, but lower than the PLA.

Regardless of scholarship situations, I encourage us all to continue to do our part to bring prospective students to Goshen College. Consider leading tours, hosting and being courteous around visitors.

Isaac Yoder-Shrock is a first-year physics major from Kansas.

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