Big scholarships, big impact?

By Eric Fung

Incoming IB students may soon have a financial edge over their collegues.

On Thu., Nov. 20, the University of Calgary’s General Faculties Council gave final approval for the establishment of 20 scholarships of $3,500 each for students entering the U of C with an International Baccalaureate diploma. The IB program, offered at four Calgary high schools and two in Cochrane, is a rigorous two-year pre-university program designed as an international standard for academically motivated students.

“IB students typically rate in the top 5 per cent of entering students in terms of preparedness for university,” said U of C Director of Enrollment Services Kevin Paul. “In terms of the curriculum set-up, the intensity of the courses, the research element, it’s no shock that these are top quality students.”

In addition to the automatic scholarship, IB diploma holders will now receive five full course equivalents of credit. This is an additional two full courses over previous regulations, which changed in April 2002 when the new academic plan was introduced.

The U of C hopes to attract IB students with these initiatives and a goal of the U of C’s academic plan is to improve the quality of the undergraduate body. According to Paul, IB students will do this. Currently, about 150 IB students enter the U of C each year, with approximately 50 of these presenting the full diploma.

“We are trying to encourage students to complete the diploma because it fits together with the academic plan,” said Paul. “We want to have more IB students to influence the spirit of the university. For example, they don’t show the typical drop-off [in marks] that most entering students experience because they are used to the demanding program.”

“A proposal of the National Undergraduate Student Recruitment Program is to increase the number of IB transcripts received by the U of C from 142 to 500,” said Students’ Union Vice-President Academic Rosie Nagra. “Furthermore, the five year target aims to improve our North American ranking from number ten to number three in terms of attracting IB students. This is to satisfy a larger goal to improve the quality of the undergraduate population.

“It is also important to note that frosh IB students have an average GPA of 3.28 compared to non IB frosh who have an average GPA of 2.70.”

There is concern, however, that funding for the IB scholarships comes from the same pool that Student Awards distributes to entering and continuing undergraduates. With an awards budget of $1.6 million, the U of C has limited funds to offer to undergraduates. If the U of C reaches its projected target of 100 IB scholarships per year in five years, this will mean that 223 entering students and 306 continuing undergraduates will no longer receive awards, assuming that there is no increase in funding.

“The concern with this proposal is that funding for the IB scholarships comes from existing university funds thus fewer scholarships are available as merit awards to both entering and undergraduate students,” said Nagra. “As the number of IB scholarships distributed increases, the number of students receiving merit awards would decrease, drastically, such that merit scholarships for entering students would no longer exist.”

Paul, however, said that fundraising efforts would decrease the IB scholarship programs’ reliance on current awards funding.

“Funding for the scholarships comes from existing university funds,” Paul explained. “We hope to raise enough money so that none of this money will come from the general fund.”

Paul also emphasized that these actions are only a part of the U of C’s recruitment plan. Other aspects include improving the service and accelerating processes for the Registrar Office’s handling of IB materials. The diploma, whose specific requirements include citizenship and an independent research project in addition to six “subject groups,” employs external evaluation to create a common curriculum and reduce grade inflation. The diploma is recognized as a basis for admission and advanced credit in over 110 countries, including at many Canadian universities. Some, such as the University of British Columbia, York University and the University of Manitoba offer scholarships based on IB score ranging from $500 to $4,000.

The University of Alberta has offered $500 scholarships to students presenting an IB diploma. Since 1996, 50 matriculants have received the award yearly based on their total score. However, the U of A has $8 million set aside for student awards, five times more than what is available at the U of C.

“At $500 each they really don’t have a big impact on recruitment,” said Michelle Gaucher from the U of A Student Awards Office. “However, inevitably it’s the students who receive the IB scholarships that also receive the larger scholarships from the U of A. Every little bit helps in recruitment. The scholarships were basically created to recognize IB students.”

Nagra agreed stating that the scholarship will not significantly change the undergraduate population. In tenth position in North America in terms of attracting IB students, she said, the U of C is already doing well in terms of recruitment.

“At a university with 26,000 undergraduate students, attracting 100 IB diploma students will make a very small contribution to the current quality of the undergraduate pool,” Nagra commented. “Furthermore, other excellent students such as students who received Advanced Placement status, or students who received honours in high school, are not recognized with a distinct scholarship.”

Paul said that it would be a matter of time before all these programs were recognized, citing other programs such as the IB certificate, Advanced Placement, leadership conferences, and Shad Valley.

“Projects are in the works for other programs,” he said. “We’re at the information gathering stage. What we can offer depends on our budget. Offering a scholarship is enough to get attention and to put U of C in the competition, but most of the work goes on quietly in the background.”

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