This study sought to determine the effect of institutional merit-based aid on student aspirations, choice, and participation at a large Canadian comprehensive urban university. The present research combined two theoretical frameworks: Hossler and Gallagher’s (1987) college choice and Perna’s (2006) situated context. Drawing on these frameworks an on-line web survey, including both forced-choice and open-ended questions, was developed for this study. The survey was distributed to all domestic direct-entry students at Simon Fraser University who received an offer of merit-based aid for the Fall 2009 term. Using parallel mixed methods analysis this study used descriptive and inferential statistics and thematic analysis. Nearly 80% of the respondents indicated their parents encouraged them to do well academically in hopes of receiving a scholarship offer. Respondents that came from families where at least one parent was a non-immigrant were more likely to accept the scholarship offer. This finding indicates that while the institution has a strong prestige reputation locally, there may be a greater preference amongst the immigrant population to choose an institution that is perceived to have a greater reputation. There were multiple combinations of factors, which affected who accepted or did not accept a scholarship offer. The leading indicator of acceptance of offer was admission to first choice institution. Other significant aspects were: program, proximity, cost of attendance, amount, and institutional reputation. The type (automatic/applied) and level (amount) of the scholarship were typically secondary factors in shaping the decision of where to attend. Forty three percent of respondents who accepted the scholarship offer were first generation university students and 15% of those who accepted were also first generation post-secondary (college or university) students. Neighbourhood before-tax median family income was $64,000 for all respondents; 51% of those who accepted the scholarship offer had incomes at or below the median. While in Canada and the US, merit-based student financial aid is often criticized as a regressive policy that amplifies disparities in wealth and education, further research should examine the potential underlying causes of the contrary findings in this study
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Thesis advisor: Nilson, Michelle
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