I was able to go to [college in the 1930s] because . . . The state of New Jersey at that time offered scholarships on a competitive basis. Had a series of exams, and the people who succeeded in those exams and who could demonstrate financial need received free tuition at Rutgers . . . The tragedy is that the state of New Jersey in their new incarnation now has a similar program, but the qualification for getting a scholarship is below average academic quality . . . It typifies what's happened in our society. Instead of emphasizing strengthening the opportunities open to the able, we have tended increasingly to shift into a state of victims in which the emphasis is on raising the people at the bottom. Now, no social progress has ever come from the bottom up. It's always come from the top small number pulling up the society as a whole and raising it.
This from EducationNews, which has a nice timeline of the mortgage crisis, how it started with such good intentions, and many little milestones. Reversing the rewards structure to help those at the bottom hurts incentives, and doesn't help those at the bottom any more than my kid's 'participation trophies' help them gain self-esteem. It just encourages ever more intrusive policy on the theory that it merely wasn't sufficient.