By: Jason Moscow
Gilman is likely to begin offering merit-based scholarships in this year’s admissions cycle. According to Headmaster Henry Smyth, although no definitive decisions have been made, “When appropriate, we [will] try to fund excellence.”
Merit-based scholarships are a form of financial aid awarded to students based on their merits rather than their families’s socio-economic needs. Traditionally, Gilman has only offered need-based aid. Mr. Smyth commented, “This was our preference. This was what we believed in.”
Recently, however, other private schools in the area have begun offering merit-based scholarships, prompting Gilman to reevaluate its policies. By offering exclusively need-based aid, Mr. Smyth questioned whether Gilman was putting itself at a disadvantage in trying to yield the best and most well-rounded students in the area. He added, “What I do know is that some boys that we have admitted have chosen to go to other schools that have offered them some non need-based aid…. And I wish they’d come to Gilman.”
Rhane Jones, a current senior at St. Paul’s, confirmed Mr. Smyth’s belief. In 2013, Rhane graduated from Calvert School, a lower and middle school that traditionally feeds students to Gilman. As an eighth grader, he was deciding between Gilman and St. Paul’s. St. Paul’s offered Rhane the Kinsolving Scholarship for his exceptional qualities as both a leader and a student. Ultimately, this led to his enrollment at St. Paul’s. Rhane explained, “It was between Gilman and St. Paul’s, but I chose St. Paul’s because of the scholarship and money.”
There are two issues that come to the forefront of Gilman’s choice to introduce merit-based scholarships, both regarding fairness. First, is it fair to give students who do not necessarily need financial aid scholarships at the expense of students who do? To this, Mr. Smyth insisted that funds for merit-based scholarships would not come from the funds reserved for need-based aid applicants. In fact, there would be “no decrease” in need-based financial aid.
Director of Finance and Administration Sean Furlong explained one way that financial aid could be affected without technically being cut. According to Mr. Furlong, “Every year, we try to increase financial aid by a certain amount...As tuition goes up, more people are in need of being on financial aid.” This does not necessarily mean that merit-based aid will come at the expense of an increase of need-based aid, as Mr. Furlong hopes that a donor will provide the necessary funds. “We haven’t quite figured it out. Does it mean we’re going to use some financial aid money for that? Does it mean that there’s going to be a donor who provides that money?” The bottom line is that it is too early to say exactly where the money for merit-based aid will come from.
The next question is one of fairness to the students currently enrolled at Gilman: would current students feel cheated out of their opportunity to receive merit-based scholarships? To this, Mr. Smyth reiterated, “When appropriate, we [will] try to fund excellence.” In other words, students currently enrolled at Gilman could receive merit-based scholarships as early as this year for their exceptional contributions in the classroom and in other parts of the community.
The details are still being worked out. Gilman has not set any quotas or criteria for the distribution of merit-based scholarships. It will be a largely circumstantial process for both current students and applicants. In an attempt to explain who would be worthy of a merit-based scholarship, Mr. Smyth articulated, “You’re talking about outstanding academic achievement and engagement in the community—what people will bring to breathe life into Gilman and get a lot out of Gilman…there is no list of criteria to check off for any of this.”
The Headmaster does not know whether or not this new approach to financial aid will enhance the school’s classrooms and hallways. He does, however, believe, “without hesitation” that Gilman attracts the smartest young men in Baltimore and intends to keep doing so: “I’d hold our student body up against any other student body in the country.”