Benefits of New Federal Financial Aid Programs for Low-Income Students Will Fall Disproportionately to Whites

Good news! The federal government has announced two new financial aid programs for low-income college students. Bad news: It is likely that very few black students will meet the criteria for the new program.

The Academic Competitiveness (AC) grants will be awarded to first- and second-year college students from low-income families who have successfully completed a rigorous secondary school program. But in order to qualify for an AC grant, a high school student must take three years of mathematics, four years of English, two years of a foreign language, and three years of laboratory science. In a number of predominantly black high schools, three laboratory sciences are not offered to students.

Low-income students can also become eligible for AC grants if they take and pass two Advanced Placement tests. But blacks are far less likely than whites to take Advanced Placement courses. Some mostly black high schools do not even offer Advanced Placement curricula. When blacks do take AP tests, they are far less likely to receive a passing grade than whites.

The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grants are available to third- and fourth-year college students from low-income families who major in mathematics, science, technology, engineering, or critical foreign languages. Grant awards in this program can go as high as $4,000, effectively doubling the maximum Pell Grant award. But the percentage of black college students majoring in all of these disciplines is lower, and sometimes significantly lower, than the black percentage of overall college enrollments.

Thus, it appears that the SMART grants will disproportionately go to low-income white and Asian students.