Determining Financial Need: Lessons from Vietnam (Part II)

Here’s the follow-up post in which I describe how to screen those who actually deserve the merit- and need-based scholarships awarded by many US colleges and universities.  By way of introduction, back in the mid-1990s, a book entitled Material World was published by Sierra Club Books in honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994.  As the description states, “16 of the world’s foremost photographers traveled to thirty nations around the globe to live for a week with families that were statistically average for that nation. At the end of each visit, photographer and family collaborated on a remarkable portrait of the family members outside their home, surrounded by all of their possessions—a few jars and jugs for some, an explosion of electronic gadgetry for others.”  The ultimate goal of this fascinating project was to put “a human face on the issues of population, environment, social justice, and consumption as it illuminates the crucial question facing our species today:  Can all six billion of us have all the things we want?”  (This is a rhetorical question.  The point is, IMHO, why should we want so many things?)

One of the obvious lessons is that “seeing is believing.”  If you want to know about a person’s social class in most of the world, aside from how they speak, what clothes and jewelry they wear, what their faces and hands look like, what their level of education is, where they travel to, etc., visit them at their home to see where they live, how they live,  what they own, and how they get around.  This is precisely what my staff did as part of a scholarship screening process.

One of the criteria was that the finalist’s family could not afford to send their daughter or son to the school without a full scholarship.  Many families that are “low-income” on paper (e.g., low salary) are doing exceedingly well as a result of property ownership, other assets such as gold and jewelry, income from investments (e.g., rent, interest), savings, and, yes, corruption.  The home visits and conversations, plus official documents, provided us with sufficient information to make our recommendations to the school’s screening committee with confidence.


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