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Shift in Federal Student Aid Is Found To Have Affected Blacks'College Plans

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By Mark Pitsch

The shift in emphasis from grants to loans in the federal student-aid program during the last decade has caused many blacks to forgo college or settle on less expensive schools that may not be the students' first choice, an analysis of data from an annual survey concludes.

Black college students are more dependent on federal aid than whites are, the study notes, and thus were particularly affected by the policy shift and the steady tuition increases of the 1980's.

The study by Alexander W. Astin, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles, draws on surveys of entering college freshmen conducted over the past two decades. Between 16,000 and 20,000 black freshmen are among some 200,000 freshmen Mr. Astin polls each fall for UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute.

Compared with white students' 12 percent, 38 percent of entering black freshmen come from families with incomes below $20,000 a year, according to the study. Whites are twice as likely to come from families with incomes greater than $60,000, it says.

"Under these conditions," Mr. Astin said, "black students have come to rely heavily on financial aid--especially federal aid--to enable them to attend college."

Nevertheless, the percentage of blacks receiving Pell Grants dropped from about 55 percent in 1978 to 41.1 percent in 1989, according to the report. During the same period, the percentage of blacks receiving Stafford loans increased from about 10 percent to nearly 28 percent, it says.

The percentage of blacks saying they chose their colleges on the basis of tuition costs rose from 17 percent in 1971 to 27 percent in 1989, the study found, while the percentage for whites rose from 19 to 21 percent.

In 1974, 65 percent of black students said they attended their first college choice, compared with 52 percent in 1989, according to the study. For whites, the figure dropped from 77 percent to 73 percent during the same period.

"If we are correct in assuming that these changes in college-choice patterns are attributable in part to the declining availability of federal grants," Mr. Astin said, "then it may also be reasonable to conclude that the declining college attendance and graduation rates for blacks that have been observed in recent years may be attributable in part to these changes in federal aid policy."

In addition to financial aid and tuition, the UCLA researcher's new report examines the values, attitudes, career choices, and fields of study of black freshmen entering college in the fall of 1989.

Blacks surveyed were more likely than whites to major in business, nursing, computer science, data processing, and pre-medicine, and less likely to major in biological and physical sciences, engineering, and education, the study found.

Mr. Astin pointed out that 20 years ago blacks were more interestteaching careers than they are now. That may be an ominous trend, he said, "unless new incentives can be found to encourage more black students to pursue teaching careers."

Compared with their white peers, the black freshmen polled last fall were more inclined toward seeking success in business and attaining financial security, according to the report. They were also more likely to report abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, to advocate a traditional homemaker role for women, and to oppose tax increases to reduce the federal deficit.

Meanwhile, the black students were more likely than white freshmen to support handgun control, a national health-care plan, consumer protection, school busing, and the abolition of the death penalty.

Copies of the study, "The Black Undergraduate: Current Status and Trends in the Characteristics of Freshmen," are available for $8 each from the Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA Graduate School of Education, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90024-1521.

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