April 24, 2020
The most likely reason that Division 3 athletes receive money from colleges is that it's “need-based" aid, based on the family's income and assets. Even middle-class parents who may assume that they're too “rich" to get financial aid (but too “poor" to pay high tuition bills without it) are often surprised to find out that they qualify for at least some need-based assistance.
But, if that's not the case, with this particular D3 swimmer, then The Dean's best guess is that this boy received a “merit scholarship" for some reason other than sports. Many (although certainly not all) D3 schools award merit aid to strong students and sometimes also for other reasons (e.g., arts achievements, community service). It's widely known (but not widely discussed) that sometimes these merit grants go to students who also happen to be good athletes. So “The Dean" calls them “back-door athletic scholarships." The recipients might indeed be top students (or artists or volunteers) but they may have edged out the competition for these merit bucks due to their prowess in the pool or on the court, the track, the field, etc.
So the next time your son chats with this collegiate swimmer's sister, have him ask if her brother's “athletic scholarship" was officially received for another reason.