Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings used her keynote speech last week at the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Conference to highlight two new federal grant programs aimed at helping students from low-income families pay for college and encouraging them to major in mathematics, science, and other high-need areas.
The grants, being used for the first time this academic year, “provide a great incentive for students to challenge themselves to become the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” Secretary Spellings told the Sept. 12 conference in Washington, which was sponsored by the Department of Education.
Read prepared remarks made by Secretary Spellings at the 2006 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference.
Called the Academic Competitiveness Grants and the National Science and Math Access to Retain Talent, or SMART, Grants, the programs were established by Congress under the Deficit Reduction Act, passed in February. The federal government plans to provide as much as $4.5 billion over the next five years for the aid, Ms. Spellings said, which could mean some $23 million for students at historically black colleges.
Students who already qualify for federal Pell Grants and who take rigorous high school courses are eligible for the Academic Competitiveness Grants, which provide up to $750 for college freshmen, and up to $1,300 for sophomores. Juniors and seniors who major in math, science, technology, or certain foreign languages are eligible for the SMART Grants, which provide as much as $4,000 annually.
After Ms. Spelling’s speech, Sabrina Simmons, a freshman at Howard University in Washington, said she plans to major in science and possibly become a nutritionist, using at least part of her $750 Academic Competitiveness Grant for books. The extra money would make a “substantial” difference, she said.
“Science textbooks are very expensive,” she said.
Still, others doubt that the extra federal aid will do enough to help students meet rising college costs.
“A big deal is made out of the millions that are put into” the two grant programs, said George D. Peternel, the coordinator of Project Excite, a program run by Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., to help minority students with high school math and science.
“This is a well-intended piece of legislation. … But when you break it down to the actual amount available per student, … it’s peanuts,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2006 edition of Education Week