Southern Illinois University, like many state colleges, occasionally offers full merit scholarships to students. The merit scholarships, which are state funded, offer free tuition to high-achieving students.

Among education advocates they’re controversial, but they’re a common feature of higher education and an admissions race to attract the best students.

But it’s a little awkward when the merit scholarship goes to the granddaughter of the college president, no matter how accomplished she may be. According to an article an article by Jodi Cohen in the Chicago Tribune

Maddie Poshard is a stellar student, with excellent grades, a top ACT score, and a history of exemplary leadership at her Springfield area high school. She is just the kind of student Southern Illinois University wants for its Presidential/Chancellor Scholarships, a taxpayer-funded free ride for four years worth about $80,000.

The problem is that the president, whose title is referenced in the scholarship, is her grandfather, Glenn Poshard. According to the article:

“That’s a tough question. It’s a tricky one. It’s a hard call,” said Dan Mann, director of student financial aid at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I would think (Poshard) would say, ‘This isn’t appropriate for you to get the scholarship and you shouldn’t be considered.’”

Is it really a tough question, though?

This is the problem with merit scholarships, after all. They tend not to go to financially needy students. In general the point of offering such scholarships, from the school’s perspective, is to encourage students who might otherwise attend more selective universities, to go to your own less prestigious one; such students improve the quality of the school. In this case, however, it not only seems to be a public relations problem. Why did the school think this was one of the best people to award full tuition?

While her grandfather maintains that he thinks the scholarship decision is appropriate– “If she is unqualified that is one thing. But she is not unqualified. I’m not trying to get any special favors for my granddaughter and she didn’t get any,” he told the Tribune–it hardly seems like the best use of public money.

It seems that everyone would have been better off if she’d just decided to go elsewhere. Her grandfather, a former congressman, makes $320,000 a year. Her family could probably well afford tuition at some other school.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer