Incoming college students can receive financial help based on need, merit, or a combination of the two.
Increasingly, states are rewarding students with grants and scholarships linked to academic performance. State grants not based on need have grown at triple the rate of need-based grants over the past 10 years, according to a report by the Education Trust this summer. Institutions, too, are distributing nearly $15 billion on grant aid, often in a regressive manner, the report found, giving out more money to students from high-income families than from low-income ones.
A recent report by the College Board showed that only one-third of students pay the sticker price advertised by colleges and universities. Most receive some form of aid and the report show the amount of aid is increasing.
To see where the merit aid is going, check out the U.S. News and World Report list of colleges that give the most merit aid. It lists the colleges that reported the highest percentage of students in the 2010-11 academic year who "had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid" excluding athletic awards and tuition benefits.
Among those at the top of the list:
State University of New York - Geneseo, N.Y. - 99%
Briar Cliff University, Sioux City, Iowa - 98%
Murray State University, Murray, Ky. - 77%
Cooper Union, New York City - 68%
Golden Gate University, San Francisco - 67%
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Needham, Mass. - 66%
Free Will Baptist Bible College, Nashville, Tenn. - 56%
Brevard College, Brevard, N.C. - 50%
Mississippi College, Clinton, Miss. - 48%
Dean College, Franklin, Mass. - 48%