MU to retain national scholarship

The California University System drops the National Merit program.
Thursday, July 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

High school students who want to get a National Merit Scholarship through MU won’t have to worry about the university following the actions of the University of California System.

The six-campus California system announced July 13 that it will redirect funding for the National Merit Scholarship program to other merit-based scholarships. The shift in funding will begin with freshmen entering the system in the fall of 2006.

Christian Basi, an MU spokesman, said the school has no plans to drop its sponsorship of the National Merit Scholarship.

MU had 107 National Merit Scholarship recipients attending the university during the 2004-05 school year.

In order to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, high school students must first take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, a test taken by many sophomores as a practice for the SAT.

About 50,000 students with high test scores are contacted by the National Merit Scholarship Corp. and asked to submit additional information on their academics and extracurricular activities. The organization chooses about 15,000 finalists and allows corporate sponsors and schools to choose scholarship recipients from that pool. The corporation also selects the National Merit Scholarship winners during their senior year of high school.

The University of California System said it decided to drop sponsorship for the program because the definition of merit used by the National Merit program is different from the system’s undergraduate admissions.

Steven Osterlind, a professor of education at MU who studies standardized testing, said he’s not surprised by the University of California’s decision.

“They’ve been talking about it for quite some time,” he said.

Osterlind said the California system stopped sponsoring the scholarships because the PSAT doesn’t produce the number of minority students that the California system wanted.

The PSAT is only meant to be a practice exam for the SAT — for that reason, there are no plans to change the test, said Karen Scoropanos, a spokeswoman for the College Board.

At both Columbia high schools, the PSAT and SAT are optional for students. With the help of guidance counselors, students interested in taking either exam set up dates for the exam directly with the National College Board, which is responsible for the writing and scoring of the PSAT and SAT. The district provides the high schools as a testing location and teachers to administer the test.

Osterlind said standardized tests can be very useful when trying to compare many students.

“You have to find one common denominator to compare one student to another,” he said.

Osterlind also said merit-based scholarships and college admissions are being awarded for factors other than just doing well on a standardized test. But he doesn’t foresee schools and scholarship foundations completely abandoning standardized testing.

“There’s a whole lot that goes into an individual’s makeup that isn’t showed by a test,” Osterlind said.

Elaine Detweiler, a spokeswoman for the National Merit Scholarship Corp., said about 200 colleges and universities sponsor the National Merit Scholarship. The corporation, which is in charge of running the scholarship program, does not plan to change the way it selects finalists for the scholarships, Detweiler said.

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