To the Editor:
I applauded, earlier this year, when Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Academic Competitiveness Grants and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent, or SMART, Grants (“Rules for New College-Aid Program Outlined,” May 10, 2006). New federal funding for higher education, especially for students pursuing degrees in mathematical or scientific fields, seems more than justified. The announcement that $790 million would be made available during the 2006-07 academic year, and $4.5 billion over the next five years, sounded too good to be true.
My applause died very quickly, once I learned of the paltry amounts that would be given to eligible college students: $750 for freshmen; up to $1,300 for sophomores; and up to $4,000 in SMART grants for juniors and seniors. Peanuts!
Apparently, neither Congress nor our president has any idea what the costs of a college education are these days. Do they really think that thousands of students will now be motivated to pursue degrees in mathematics, science, or critical foreign languages because of the availability of these grants? When I mention the grant amounts to students who are being charged more than $40,000 per year to attend Northwestern University, where I work, I hear laughter. Or stunned silence.
Is this new law really intended to stimulate students to major in critically needed fields? Or is it just a cruel hoax? I think the latter. Sadly.
Center for Talent Development
School of Education and Social Policy
A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as Paltry SMART Grants Are Cruel Hoax, Not Talent Spur