In The Washington Post, Nick Anderson takes a look at an intriguing experiment involving “Merit Aid” programs.

The open secret of higher education is that private colleges competing for students often slash prices for families wealthy enough to pay full tuition.

Some dangle “merit aid” to lure academic stars. Others use discounts to ensure that they enroll enough affluent students to meet their revenue targets.

Washington University in St. Louis provides grants unrelated to financial need or athletics to 14 percent of freshmen, a Washington Post analysis found. George Washington University gives them to 20 percent, and Tulane University to 37 percent. Those three are among dozens of prominent private schools that offer significant largesse to students without need.

But as prices climb past $60,000 a year at many private colleges, debate over student debt and subsidies for the affluent has led some schools to rethink how they dole out funds.

Franklin & Marshall College is a case in point. The liberal arts school here in Pennsylvania’s Amish region ended almost all merit aid a few years ago and expanded grants for those in need, launching a recruiting revolution that has drawn national attention.

The share of freshmen in high need soared, while the share who pay full price shrank. Test scores of incoming students held steady. This year the school cracked the top 40 in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of liberal arts colleges, rising to 37th…..