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Study: White students more likely to win scholarships


A national report released this week by financial aid guru Mark Kantrowitz finds minority students are less likely to win private scholarships or receive merit-based institutional grants than Caucasian students – a pattern that also holds true in California.

The analysis [PDF], based on 2003-04 and 2007-08 data for hundreds of thousands of students from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, found that nationally, Caucasian students are 40 percent more likely to win private scholarships than minority students.

Kantrowitz's report did not drill down to individual states, but he provided California Watch with data from the Golden State. The figures show that white students here also receive a disproportionately greater share of private scholarship funding – albeit to a lesser degree than on the national level. Caucasians represent 44 percent of private scholarship recipients in California but only 41 percent of the undergraduate student population. Minority students, by contrast, represent 55 percent of scholarship recipients and 58 percent of undergraduates.

Kantrowitz, who publishes the popular college financial aid websites FinAid and Fastweb and does consulting in computer science, artificial intelligence, and statistical and policy analysis, said he decided to embark on the study because he read a news story that repeated a claim he hears often: White students don't get their fair share of scholarships.

WFAA-TV in Dallas reported in June that a new nonprofit group, the Former Majority Association for Equality, awards scholarships for whites only. Colby Bohannan, one of the group's founders, told WFAA that "it just got really frustrating when every other scholarship you happen to find online, you need not apply to based on your ethnicity or gender."

"It struck me that he didn’t have any evidence for that statement, and it was an interesting question," Kantrowitz said in an interview. He asked the question of the data and found the answer.

"I would say that the race myth is busted," he said. "There is no evidence to support statements that minority students get more than their fair share of scholarships. If anything, Caucasian students receive more than their fair share … by a significant margin."

The Texas whites-only scholarship is the latest in a string of scholarships restricted to Caucasian students, often rooted in a belief that white students get fewer scholarships than minority students.

In California, a bequest from UC Berkeley alumna Marguerite Hornbeck established UC scholarships for "very poor, American, Caucasian scholars" in 1992. Hornbeck said in a short autobiography that her father's death had forced her to work six days a week as a telephone operator when she was a young woman, The New York Times reported. The former school teacher said her early life experience left her concerned about poor Caucasian students struggling to pay college tuition.

The Werner Scott Scholarship at UCLA was established in 1945 and is restricted to Caucasian students from Hawaii who are not of Polynesian blood. The scholarship is still active, with one award of $4,000 granted in 2010-11, a UCLA spokesman said.

"There’s nothing wrong with having a scholarship that’s restricted to students of a particular race," Kantrowitz said. "But if you say there are no scholarships that only white people can win, then it’s not correct."

Kantrowitz's study focused most closely on private scholarships offered by outside groups and merit-based or non-need-based scholarships offered by colleges and universities themselves. He found that nationally, Caucasian students still were more likely to win private scholarships than African American, Latino or Asian students, even after adjusting for differences in financial need, high school GPA or college GPA.

Among low-income students, 7 percent of white students received private scholarships, compared with 5 percent of minority students. Among students with high school GPAs of 3.5 or better, 11 percent of white students received private scholarships, compared with 8 percent of minorities.

White students also were more likely to receive institutional merit-based grants, Kantrowitz found. Universities often use these scholarships as recruiting tools to woo academically attractive students who have no demonstrated financial need.

Kantrowitz said he doesn't see private scholarships as deliberately discriminatory. Most scholarships do not use racial preferences at all, he said. But many private scholarships tend to "perpetuate historical inequities in the distribution of scholarships according to race," he wrote.

He observed that many private scholarships reflect the interests of their sponsors, which may not resonate as much with minority students. For example, awards for students who participate in equestrian sports, water sports and winter sports may attract more Caucasian than African American applicants, Kantrowitz said.

"It kind of raises the question of what exactly are the priorities here?" he said. "You have institutions that are giving out merit- and need-based aid, and the merit-based aid seems to be much more likely to be awarded to non-minority students. With the scholarships, it seems to be not any deliberate discrimination, just perpetuation of historical differences."

Percentage of students receiving private scholarships, by race/ethnicity
Race Percentage of scholarship recipients Percentage of student population
White 43.6 41.4
All Minority Students 55.3 58.1
   Black or African American 5.3 8.1
   Hispanic or Latino 29.5 28
   Asian 11 15.7
   American Indian or Alaska Native 2.1 0.6
   Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 2.2 2.1
   More than one race 5.2 3.6
Source: Mark Kantrowitz query based on data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Includes data from studies in 2003-04 and 2007-08.
Filed under: Higher Ed, Daily Report


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