In Arkansas, Merit-Based College Scholarships Go Almost Entirely to Whites

In 1997 the Governor’s Distinguished Scholars program was established in Arkansas. To qualify for a Governor’s Distinguished Scholars award high school students must score a 32 on the ACT test or a 1440 on the SAT. They also must have a 3.5 grade point average. The state allocates funds for 250 Distinguished Scholars each year. Winners of these awards receive $10,000 if they enroll in a college or university in Arkansas. They can renew the scholarship if they remain enrolled full-time and maintain a 3.25 grade point average in college.

Since the program was instituted, 2,000 Governor’s Distinguished Scholars have been named. Of these, only 23, or 1.15 percent, have been black. More than 18 percent of all students enrolled in college in Arkansas are black.

The ACT threshold of 32 makes it nearly impossible for black students to qualify for these awards. In the entire nation only 121 black students scored 32 or above on the ACT in 2005. This was 0.1 percent of all black ACT test takers. It is likely that less than a handful of black students in Arkansas score 32 or above on the ACT each year. But there are 250 Distinguished Scholars awards each year, almost all of which go to whites.