A Value Beyond Money? Assessing the Impact of Equity Scholarships: From Access to Success

Context: Reflects on impact of scholarship program for educationally disadvantaged students at Macquarie University. Works from Universities Australia (2013) figure of 2/3 university students living under the poverty line. In 2004, federal government introduced 'Commonwealth Learning Scholarship' program to supplement the existing scholarship provision, which had previously been at the whim of individual organisations. HEPPP has also contributed to growth in scholarships offered (p.2) Macquarie offer a range of scholarships, which are dependent on students providing evidence of financial need according to UAC formula. Literature suggests that scholarships are often positioned as incentivises in the context of neoliberal, student-as-consumer universities. Financial circumstances have been found to be barriers for low SES students (according to literature - but offers critique by connecting to aspirations literature). Notes that researchers have called for more exploration of impact of financial aid.
Theoretical frame: Nothing explicit
Methodology: Examining retention data and conducting interviews with 12 scholarship recipients. At MQ, 525 students received equity scholarships between 2009-2012
Findings: The scholarships not only improve retention (90% of 525 recipients of equity scholarships), the qualitative data also shows other positive effects, categorised as:
Resources = what students were able to purchase (text books/ computers/ bills). Beyond material = intangible value of time (achieving better work-study balance; creating new opportunities for ECAs or invest in future careers), or for others the benefit "had been the security (see below) provided by the scholarship that emboldened them to take extra risks they would not otherwise have taken (such as studying abroad)", p.6.
Access, belonging, security = scholarship provided incentive to apply for uni (changed perceptions of being able to afford HE) or made full-time study a possibility. Knowing money was coming = reassuring (p.6) - reduced sense of precarity. Students also reported feeling more like they belonged to MQ: "gesture of recognition" (p.7), which enhanced self-efficacy and belief in own potential.
Motivation, engagement, self-efficacy = increase in motivation to study, to 'give back' and "make sure they had 'earned' the opportunity through hard work, strengthening their commitment to their studies and their contribution to student life" (p.8)
"It's a value beyond money" (p.10)
Core argument: The view of scholarships needs to be shifted from incentive to key institutional mechanisms. Offers model for visualising impact of drivers/ influences (rather than impact) of scholarships (according to themes above) = "'best-fit' interpretation" (p.10). Need to find better ways of assessing potential that are not based on past education/achievement.