Changes to AES Awards Met with Unhappiness

Cindy Folefack
Editor-in-Chief

Previous merit scholarship tiers abolished due to university growth, increasing SAT/ACT scores

Despite confusion and unhappiness from prospective students following a change in Academic Excellence Scholarships, university officials maintain that UTD is committed to financial merit awards.

Several prospective students posted on the UTD subreddit on mid-December as AES awards went out. Historically, the award had three tiers — Honors, Distinction and Achievement — with each tier providing full tuition coverage with a $3,000 semesterly stipend, full tuition coverage with a $1,000 semesterly stipend and $3,000 tuition coverage per semester with no stipend, respectively. After this year’s awards were released, several students voiced their confusion and frustration after receiving less scholarship money than expected.

A Mercury survey of 174 prospective students distributed through the subreddit found that 76% of respondents received an AES offer in December. Of those respondents, 39.5% received $16,000 yearly, 26% received $13,000 yearly, 15% received $10,000 yearly, 12% received $6,000 yearly and 7.5% received a different amount. Of that 7.5%, three respondents said they received $3,000 annually while the remainder chose not to specify.

The Bursar’s Office placed tuition at $6,955 per semester for 12-15 credit hours under the guaranteed tuition plan, bringing the total tuition cost per year to $13,910. Nearly 70% of survey respondents said they did not know a change was being made to AES awards and 93% said they felt they weren’t properly notified. The AES webpage used to provide a description of each award tier along with the SAT/ACT and GPA requirements. That page has since been taken down.

“I’ve planned for a while now (at least a couple years) to go to UTD. It’s been my ideal school for a number of reasons — community, location, majors. But my number one reason has been the affordability through the AES program. With my testing scores (1530 SAT, 31 ACT, National Merit Commended), even with my poor class rank of 151 and GPA of 3.67 weighted, I still had a good shot of the low and mid tiers of AES, possibly even full ride,” one post read. “Well, now the time has finally come, and when AES recipients were sent out Sunday, I received nothing. Not even the lowest tier …  At this point, I’m down to the decision of the FAFSA gods, or I’m gonna be tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the end of my bachelor’s program.”

Senior Director of Enrollment Management Michael Seeligson said the changes came as a result of UTD’s growing student population. According to the university’s Common Data Set for academic year 2018-2019, the university received 13,123 freshman applications, up from 5,554 in academic year 2009-2010.

“As you see that type of extreme growth, it’s natural to see that the merit scholarships would become more competitive over that time period,” Seeligson said. “Current scholarship recipients continue to receive their awards based on the agreements that they had signed at the time that they enrolled in classes before the first semester.”

The survey found that application submission dates varied from July to December. This year, all applications received by the Dec. 1 priority deadline were reviewed at the same time for AES consideration, Seeligson said.

Applications are evaluated based on academic factors including SAT/ACT scores, the types of classes students took, class rank and grades, he said.

“(We also look) at the opportunities that students have on a high school-by-high school basis, understanding that not all high school experiences are the same or can be compared,” Seeligson said.

Nearly all respondents had an SAT score of 1400-1600, with 42% scoring from 1501-1600 while 61% of respondents who took the ACT scored from 30-36. The majority of respondents who received AES offers had a GPA of 3.90 or above and were in the top 10% of their high school class. Over 70% of respondents said they were slightly, moderately or extremely unhappy with the change and 82.6% of respondents said they were counting on AES for financial reasons.

Seeligson declined to comment on what the current AES tiers are, but acknowledged the role financial aid plays in university admissions.

“We understand scholarships and financial aid are both important considerations in the college choice process,” he said. “Current students and alumni who might’ve learned about UT Dallas because of merit scholarships regularly highlight the quality of education and the preparation for the next stage of their careers … I think some of the increased growth in the freshman applications shows that people are finally recognizing that UT Dallas really is the outstanding academic institution that it is and that students can receive truly an outstanding value in their education.”

Seeligson said that students who submitted their applications by Dec. 1 and believe a technical error was made in the application process are welcome to appeal their AES award.

“If students feel that there might’ve been some sort of technical error, then we’re happy to look into that,” he said. “But if students have received updated information after the priority deadline or if they otherwise might have a reason to believe that something to outside of a procedural reason, then typically we do not go back and re-review applications on their merit.”

When asked, Seeligson did not state upcoming plans to increase transparency for AES scholarships.

“UT Dallas is already recognized as a Carnegie (Research I) university,” he said. “While we’re proud of the role that we play in educating these students already, we anticipate that our reputation will continue to grow.”


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