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5% of Scholarships Found To Be Race-Based Aid

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Washington

Of undergraduate college scholarships targeted toward members of minority groups in the 1991-92 academic year, 5 percent were available only to minority students, a long-awaited federal study has found.

Racial or ethnic minorities received 75 percent of the scholarships and 82 percent of the scholarship dollars targeted partially or exclusively toward members of minority groups, the General Accounting Office study said.

Two-thirds of four-year undergraduate institutions conferred at least one "minority-targeted scholarship,'' and such awards make up 5 percent of all scholarships and 4 percent of all scholarship dollars distributed across the country, the G.A.O. found.

The study, "Higher Education: Information on Minority-Targeted Scholarships,'' studied scholarships targeted toward students of a particular gender, age, or religion, or toward disabled students, as well as those aimed at racial and ethnic minority groups. The study was based on a survey sent to 649 public and private institutions, as well as six on-site audits.

Three Categories

The G.A.O. broke down minority-targeted scholarships into three categories: race-exclusive awards, available only to members of one or more racial minority groups; minority-designated awards, in which race is one of several required eligibility factors; and minority-considered, in which a particular racial background is considered a positive factor but is not a requirement.

Race-exclusive scholarships made up less than 1 percent of all scholarships in undergraduate and graduate programs, and about 3 percent awarded by professional schools, the study found.

About 7 percent of all members of racial minorities attending igher-education institutions received a targeted scholarship, and less than 4 percent received a targeted scholarship that was available exclusively to members of a particular race.

In undergraduate schools, private endowments provide nearly 60 percent of all minority-targeted scholarship dollars, the report said, while tuition and fees provide the most money for such scholarships in graduate schools.

Release of the 99-page study, which was commissioned by eight members of Congress in 1992, reopens a contentious political issue by clearing the way for the Education Department to issue policy guidelines on the legality of minority-targeted scholarships.

The controversy began in December 1990, when Michael L. Williams, then the agency's assistant secretary for civil rights, essentially declared race-exclusive scholarships illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.

A firestorm of controversy erupted over the legal validity of Mr. Williams's decision, whether it represented a reversal of federal policy, and its potential implications for minority access to higher education.

Lamar Alexander, then the Secretary of Education, released proposed guidelines in December 1991 that said race or national origin could be used as one of several factors in determining scholarship eligibility, but essentially backed Mr. Williams's interpretation.

However, Mr. Alexander agreed to a request from members of Congress to hold off on formally publishing regulations until the G.A.O. had weighed in.

Last March, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced his support for race-based scholarships but said he, too, would wait for the G.A.O. report.

Secretary Riley said in a statement this month that department officials are reviewing the report and that "we will shortly issue final policy guidelines.''

Disparate Viewpoints

Civil-rights advocates, higher-education leaders, federal officials, and conservative advocates who have been mired in debate over the legality of such scholarships for the past three years generally agree that the issue will ultimately be resolved in the courts.

David Merkowitz, a spokesman for the American Council on Education, said that the organization feels "vindicated'' because the G.A.O. findings mirror those of an A.C.E. survey conducted soon after the controversy erupted.

"There's nothing surprising in these findings,'' he said.

Mr. Merkowitz noted that information from the audits contained in the report revealed that higher-education leaders found minority-targeted scholarships helpful in recruiting and retaining minority students, signaling the importance of minority students to their institutions, and creating a comfortable campus climate for minorities.

But Richard Samp, the general counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, which is challenging the legality of race-exclusive scholarships in the courts, said he found the percentage of such scholarships high.

"I'm shocked at how many there are,'' he said.

Mr. Samp added that he thought the distinctions made by the G.A.O. in regard to how race factored into scholarship eligibility are "relatively artificial.''

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