Eliminate ethnically centered scholarships

by Leonardo Castaneda

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Throughout U.S history, the Caucasian male has been the king of the hill. He held all the power, all the rights and all the breaks. But in the last few decades, a lot has changed. While we are still far from true equality, we are beginning to see the glimmers of a new America, where people of all backgrounds are standing together at this vantage point of social empowerment with pride and a common purpose. This new reality is nowhere more apparent than in college and financial aid programs.

Scholarships have long been a way to help the most disadvantaged members of society through college. By restricting aid to specific demographics, ethnic groups have been able to build up their own communities. Financial aid determined by ethnicity helped increase the enrollment of minorities in white male-dominated universities. But the times, and people, are changing. We now need to find better socio-economic determinants for financial need than ethnicity and gender.

U.S. educational relief programs for minorities have virtually made a scholarship buffet that offers opportunities to almost anyone. However, the Former Majority Association for Equality saw a glaring omission in this selection and decided to step in. In the words of co-founder and treasure of finance, William Lake, FMAFE wants to help “Caucasian males in need of financial assistance … pay for their education.”

FMAFE’s controversial scholarship follows a simple logic: Poverty does not know race. Yet, our current system often determines eligibility for financial aid through ethnicity. Through this method, every racial demographic must provide its own members with sources for scholarship aid. That means if Caucasians are going to receive financial aid, it has to be a Caucasian-male only scholarship. Our knee jerk reaction to the idea of a “white only” scholarship opportunity is to cringe, scream and protest because the race and class consciousness our society has adopted throughout the past 50 years. Lake acknowledged the obvious “social taboo” of a white only scholarship, but insisted FMAFE’s essential goal remains simple: Help needy students pay for school. FMAFE isn’t promoting racism or white supremacy, but rather targeting a demographic that has recently seen few available sources of financial aid.

This begs the question of how our society should determine who deserves financial aid most. Virtually all financial aid organizations would agree with Lake’s assertion that the “commitment to education and financial need” of a student should be the most important determinant for aid eligibility. Organizations offering scholarships exclusively to members of a certain minority must abandon those old qualifications when selecting a financial aid recipient.

There are countless ways to determine true need. Comparing one’s grades to peers within a region, the rigor of one’s class schedule and essay prompts asking to identify extraordinary challenges they’ve overcome would all provide proof of commitment to education. Students and their families’ financial and economic challenges, as well as a parent’s level of education, can reveal a true need for economic assistance. With so many other, more accurate socio–economic determinants of financial need, one has to wonder why we would consider ethnicity at all.

Supporters of the ethnicity box in applications like to point out that certain minorities face particular challenges in education that might otherwise be ignored. While this factor is important, it isn’t nearly as prevalent as it was before. Minorities are quickly catching up with Caucasians in college enrollment across the country. In 2009, 69.2 percent of white high school graduates enrolled in college, followed extremely close by black students’ 68.7 percent enrollment. Hispanic graduates were also close behind with 59.3 percent college enrollment. Leading all ethnicities by huge margins though were Asian–American high school graduates with 92.2 percent enrolled in college in 2009. Women also outpaced men in college enrollment by almost 8 percent.

True diversity is spreading throughout the nation as minority representation begins to greater reflect the overall population. Caucasians represent about 64.4 percent of college students and about 64.9 percent of the total population. Black and Asian–Americans have slightly larger representations among college students while Hispanics are still below their population percentage despite steady growth.

These numbers aren’t perfect for a very important reason: traditional ethnic determinants are becoming increasingly outdated in modern America. Almost 5.5 million Americans consider themselves members of two or more races. As a result, conventional race–based demographics are now harder to define because of an increasingly multicultural population.

Of course, many minorities still need help increasing college enrollment. However, the current system only provides limited help by often restricting scholarship providers to other members of the same ethnicity. By eliminating the ethnicity box in all financial-aid applications, we can allow a more effective flow of resources to the groups with the most need. If Hispanics need the most help, a race free financial aid system would easily showcase this need and equitably distribute aid from donors and organizations across the nation. But until that day comes, organizations such as FMAFE will be necessary to level the financial aid field.

—Leonardo Castaneda is a business administration freshman.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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