tColleges Offer Data To Assess Scholarship Policy’s Impact

By Mark Pitsch — January 09, 1991 3 min read
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In the weeks since Assistant Secretary of Education Michael L. Williams made his controversial statements on the legal status of minority scholarships, college officials have sought to give a clearer picture of the number and nature of those awards.

Among the data cited:

According to the College Board’s annual survey of colleges and universities, 24 percent, or 696, of the responding institutions for the 1990-91 academic year reported distributing grants or scholarships to minority students without regard to financial need. That was up from 15 percent, or 439, of the schools responding in 1987-88.

About 27 percent, or 785 schools, reported issuing grants or scholarships to minorities based on both race and need in 1990-91, the survey found. That was up from 16 percent, or 467, of the schools in 1987-88.

At least nine states have established scholarship, grant, or loan-forgiveness programs for minorities regardless of need, according to a 1989-90 survey by the National Association of State Scholarship and Grant Programs.

In addition, it found, six states have minority scholarships and grants that take need into account.

A 1990 survey of 142 public, four-year institutions in 10 states with large minority populations, conducted by Richard C. Richardson, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Arizona State University, found that more than 60 percent of the schools offered special entitlements to minority students.

While Mr. Williams did not specifically address loan-forgiveness programs, some educators have voiced concern that state programs that waive college-loan repayments for minority students who enter teaching might be deemed illegal.

At least 10 states have such programs, according to a survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

The position laid out by Mr. Williams on Dec. 18 states that colleges, with some exceptions, may award race-exclusive scholarships only if they are financed with private money donated specifically for that purpose.

If the policy stands, observers predicted, expensive private colleges and the most selective public universities will be hardest hit, because they commonly have to offer sizable financial incentives to attract minority students.

Richard F. Rosser, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, told the House Education and Labor Committee last month that 70 percent of the financial aid targeted for minority recruitment and retention at naicu schools comes from general institutional funds, and thereforeel10lwould be illegal under the department’s position.

College and university officials have also expressed uncertainty over how broadly the department might apply its legal interpretation.

Blenda J. Wilson, chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said she worried that the college-access program at her school, which includes tutoring, mentoring, and scholarships for disadvantaged students who live in Detroit neighborhoods, could be affected. The neighborhoods targeted are 75 percent black.

“If the federal government can tell higher-education institutions that they can’t give minority scholarships, they might begin to say you can’t discriminate by neighborhood,” she said.

James E. Lyons, president of Bowie State College in Maryland, said he wondered if the “other-race grants” distributed by the state to encourage whites to attend his predominantly black school will be affected.

Apart from the potential monetary impact, many educators warned, the scholarship flap could send a negative message to minority students.

Those students see scholarships designed for them as a “welcome mat’’ of sorts to the predominantly white institution of higher education, the educators said. The department’s position, they argued, pulls that mat from under them just as demographic trends are making minorities an increasingly critical source of skills for the job market.

“There may be some basis in the law for this [position] that I don’t know about, but in my opinion there’s no basis in educational or social judgment,” said Gordon H. Lamb, president of Northeastern Illinois University, which has aided nearly 50 minority students with $1,000 scholarships it developed with the private sector.


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