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Financial aid bias against whites a myth, new study says

Many studies point to a lack of representation by minorities in science and engineering fields, but the roots of
that inequality are hard to trace. A new, non-peer-reviewed report finds that, contrary to the claims of some
“white rights” activists, grants and scholarships are fairly evenly distributed by ratio of racial prevalence in undergraduate education. 

However, the picture changes somewhat when looking into the details. The report found that white students are significantly more likely to receive private and merit-based scholarships than are minority students, while minority students are slightly more likely to receive need-based financial aid. Since 2003, while both need-based and private scholarship funding has increased, funding for private scholarships has increased at a faster rate, suggesting that the gap between whites’ and minorities’ financial aid opportunities could be widening — not good news for those looking to improve minority representation in science.

Report author Mark Kantrowitz, a stats analyst and publisher of the
financial aid sites Fastweb.com and FinAid.org (which published the report), looked at data from the U.S.
Department of Education’s National
Postsecondary Student Aid Study
, which collects data every 4 years on
how students pay for college. He found that minority students make up 38% of the total undergraduate population in the United States and account for 40% of need-based grant and scholarship funding — reflecting the fact
that minority students more frequently come from impoverished backgrounds than
their white peers — but only 24% of merit-based scholarships. White students, on the other hand, make up 62% of the total undergrad population and receive 59% of need-based financial aid and 76% of the merit-based funding.

That inequality doesn’t reflect explicit racism, Kantrowitz
argues, but instead the propensity for donors, who are more likely to be
white, to offer scholarships for activities like golf, archery, equestrian
sports, water sports, and winter sports, all of which tend to attract more
white participants than minority participants. “The sponsors of rodeo
scholarships aren’t motivated by a desire to indirectly discriminate against
minority students; they just like to promote rodeo,” Kantrowitz writes.
“But the net result is that private scholarships as a whole disproportionately
select for Caucasian students.”

When you combine students’ total odds of receiving financial
aid, the “race myth” — that is, that minority students receive more
than their fair share of financial aid — falls apart, Kantrowitz concludes. In
fact, white students come out slightly more likely overall to receive financial aid of some kind. To
correct the imbalance, he writes, more money is needed for need-based grants and scholarships.

The funders of rodeo scholarships and others may not mean to promote institutional inequality, but it does add to the series of cumulative advantages that allow white students to enjoy more and better educational and career opportunities than minority students. An independent study for example recently pointed out that white applicants to the National Institutes of Health are 10 percentage points more likely to receive an R01 grant than their black counterparts. These and other studies suggest that policymakers need to take a hard look at the systems in place to find ways to put future minority scientists on more equal footing.

Hat tip to Insider Higher Ed.