To the Detriment of African Americans, States Are Increasingly Turning to Merit-Based Financial Aid for College Students

As was always the case, money continues to be a major barrier to black student enrollments in higher education. The inability of low- and moderate-income black students to afford higher education is offset only to a limited degree by the availability of financial aid.

The bad news is that, increasingly, financial aid for college students is being allocated on the basis of merit rather than need. Blacks, who are three times as likely to be poor as whites, disproportionately benefit when need-based aid is directed toward youngsters in low-income families. But blacks, who on average have significantly lower grade point averages and scores on standardized tests than whites, receive almost insignificant portions of merit-based aid.

According to a report from the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs, nationwide, 62.2 percent of all financial aid for undergraduate college students awarded by state governments is need based. A decade ago, 81 percent of all financial aid for college students at the state level was need based.

In 2008, 14 states offered more merit-based aid than need-based aid to undergraduate students. Many of these states are in the South ,where there are large numbers of low-income black students who need financial assistance in order to bear the costs of a college education.

Overall, more than $2.1 billion in financial aid based solely on merit was awarded by state governments in 2008. This is nearly quadruple the amount from a decade ago.