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National Scholarships: Time to Fill the Loopholes

Due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the endless recession is perhaps making college students feel the burden of tuition even more than before. This situation is even more serious for students with challenging family circumstances, and they inevitably need the help of the national scholarship system. The national scholarship is a government-subsidized project managed by the Korea Student Aid Foundation (KOSAF) to provide fair opportunities in education regardless of each student’s economic condition. Despite this desirable intention, however, students who really need help cannot get the benefit for various reasons. Hence, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will introduce the national scholarship, its blind spots and offer proper solutions to deal with the problems.

What Is a National Scholarship?

Introduction of the National Scholarship

The national scholarship system is designed to provide more benefits to students in need by using finances from the government and universities. The reason why this system started is to provide equal opportunities to students who cannot afford college tuition, ultimately planning to foster future talents. Since 2012, two types of national scholarship systems based on students’ household income levels have started, which are called National Grant TypeⅠ and National Grant Type Ⅱ. TypeⅠ is supported by the government, and Type Ⅱ is supported by educational institutions like universities. In 2014, a Multi-Child Grant for families with multiple children and a Local-Talent Grant for students enrolling in a local university were added. Generally, off-campus scholarships reduce or exempt tuition along with national scholarships. Some off-campus scholarships, however, provide additional support for living expenses over the amount of the tuition. In 2021, the budget for national scholarships that are granted based on income level is estimated to be about 3.5 trillion won. As time goes on, the budget and range of beneficiaries are gradually increasing.

Selection Standards and Application of the National Scholarship

Income-based national scholarships have two standards: income level and Grade Point Average (GPA). First, the income level is divided into eight levels: from level 1 (30% of the standard median income) to level 8 (200% of the standard median income). The standard median income is set by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW). Students from income levels 1 to 8 can receive national scholarships, and the maximum amount they can get varies depending on their level. When measuring the standard median income, salaries of the students and parents are calculated. Additionally, properties such as houses, land, and cars, including invisible properties such as savings and stocks, are considered. The minimum number of credits that students should have taken in the previous semester is 12 credits. In the case of freshmen, the minimum credits and grade standards are not applied for the first semester. In the case of registered students, the GPA should be at least 80 out of 100 (2.5 at SKKU), and in the case of recipients of basic living, GPA should be at least 70 out of 100 (1.5 at SKKU). The application period for the scholarship is divided into two. The 1st period is for registered students and processed at the end of the previous semester. In most cases, tuition is reduced or exempted, and students only need to pay the fee excluding the scholarships. The 2nd application period is for freshmen or students who missed the 1st period, and it is a form of receiving the assigned amount after paying the whole tuition first.

Maximum Granted Amount per Income Levels (Unit: KRW 10,000) (kosaf.go.kr)

Blind Spots of the National Scholarship

Loopholes in Figuring Household Income

Although the national scholarship is based on income level, the figuring process uses a fixed standard median income. In other words, regardless of the students’ number of household members, the standard is always fixed as the standard of the median income of four family members. If the number of family members exceeds five, however, the income should be inevitably higher. In the case of a Multi-Child Grant, as it can only be granted to students whose income level is 8, there exist families with multiple children who cannot receive it. Also, when KOSAF calculates the assets to decide income level, it deducts the total debt from the total assets of the household. The problem is that when the asset reaches zero, the asset cannot be deducted to a negative number even if the debt is more than the asset. Moreover, some students use expedient methods regarding their household income, as if they are economically deprived even though they are not. They make their income level lower by changing the owner property of the household to companies or relatives. In addition, if errors occur in figuring the income level, the 2nd application can only be made up to two times during whole college semesters. Whether the students have mistaken or not, they cannot apply for a national scholarship again after their second application.

Ignoring Negative Net Worth in Calculations (nerdwallet.com)

Is the National Scholarship Practically Helpful?

The granted amount of the scholarship differs by each income level. For National Grant TypeⅠ, the maximum granted amount for students in level 1 is 2.6 million won. Since the rest of the amount is supported by the school as a form of National Grant TypeⅡ, the remaining tuition must be paid by students if a school does not support it. In addition, to receive TypeⅡ, students must pass additional specific standards set by colleges. What is more, some students who are recipients of basic living have not enough information about the scholarship. According to the audit report on the student support project for tuition by the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea (BAI) in November 2018, from 2015 to 2017, about 93,000 freshmen did not apply even though they were eligible to receive national scholarships. Among them, 52% of freshmen were recipients of basic living, who could get a full-ride scholarship. About 77% of the respondents answered that they were not aware of the national scholarship system itself or the application period and process. It means that the information is not sufficiently delivered to the students who really need help.

Efforts to Eliminate the Loopholes

Changes in the Figuring System

Only using the standard median income level of a four-member family can result in students of larger families not being able to get a scholarship. It is necessary to apply a different standard of median income depending on the family size. Plus, regarding the calculation of the income level, if debt exceeds the asset, it is necessary to deduct into negative numbers. The fact that the existence of debt beyond property is not recognized properly indicates that the household’s income level is being inappropriately assessed. Moreover, the KOSAF should not limit the number of those reapplying. Although it is not students’ fault having errors in the process of income calculation, the fact that the student takes the penalty is problematic. As the number of applying students will be equally divided into the 1st and 2nd application periods, it will lead to an improvement in efficiency. To prevent cheating, it is necessary to additionally investigate the assets of companies or relatives when the household income of a student has sharply decreased.

Checking Essential Information for Application (bloggingheros.com)

Practical Equality Rather Than Formal Equality

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that from 2022, the maximum amount that can be granted per semester would increase from 2.6 million won to 3.5 million won. Nonetheless, the burden of preparing tuition is still difficult for some students as tuition differs depending on the college. The proper scholarship should give a certain percentage of whole tuition fees rather than a certain amount. For example, in order to promote practical help, if 100% of tuition is granted for Sections 1 to 3, then the amount should be reduced by 10% as the level goes up. Also, before entering a university, education related to national scholarships must be conducted in high schools. Rather than posting information on the bulletin board as a simple announcement, active education should be done after the process for college admission. Education that gives detailed information from application standards to application methods is needed for students who are in challenging circumstances through personal consulting. Lastly, in the case of students who have great performance, they should be allowed to receive scholarships beyond the tuition. If their GPA and activities are astonishing, students should additionally receive scholarships related to grades to make their good performances meaningful.

Since its start in 2012, the national scholarship system has been continuously expanding. However, the most important question should be “Has the scholarship been delivered to the people who really need it?” rather than “How much has been delivered to how many people?” The national scholarship system must consider its main purpose again and constantly develop to solve these problems.

양희태  yht0648@g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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