A Racial Breakdown of Financial Aid

According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2007–08 academic year, undergraduates received $62 billion in grant aid from a variety of sources. Over the 1996 to 2007 period, the percentage of all undergraduate students receiving merit-based grants increased from 6 percent to 14 percent. During the same period, the percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based financial aid increased from 32 percent to 37 percent.

In the 2007-08 academic year, 16.4 percent of all white undergraduates received merit-based aid. For all black undergraduates, 11.4 percent received merit-based grants. Just over 30 percent of all white students received scholarship grants based on need, compared to 52.9 percent of all black undergraduates.

If we look only those students attending four-year colleges and universities on a full-time basis, we find that 35.1 percent of white students and 26.9 percent of black students received merit-based grants. Nearly 40 percent of white students and 70.6 percent of black students received need-based financial aid.

Since whites are more likely than blacks to receive merit-based scholarships, the shift in financial aid toward grants based on merit rather than need, as was the case in the 1996 to 2008 period tracked in this study, will benefit whites and lessen the higher educational opportunities of African Americans.

The Department of Education report can be downloaded here.


Comments (17)

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  1. nickel says:

    You have your analysis completely backwards. The way colleges and universities finance their operations the “mainly white students” who can pay the full cost of tuition, room and board are paying about 50% more than they should be for the privelage of attending that school. The extra money is what funds the need based scholarships of which blacks and other minorities are a major beneficiary. The increase in the number of “merit” scholarships in the last fifteen years is a reflection as the cost of a college or university education gets more and more expensive fewer students of any color can afford the quote “Full Tuition, Room and Board” which is the artifically high “rack” rate the schools use to garner enough revenue to then subsidize the need scholarships for the minority and other students. Since the number of white or any race students who can afford the full rate is lower as the cost of colleges and universities soars, they need to offer more and more “merit scholarships” which are really discounts to the rack rates, in order to attract enough full pay students to keep the entire scheme going.

    • James says:

      Nickel, you should run for president, my family would vote for you. My wife and I had to pay the full tuition for my three children, two were twins at the same time, NO GRANTS, NO HELP AT ALL, so that the free loaders can attend. Now my wife and I can not retire, we will have to work until we die.

      • Sara says:

        I am also putting children through college and I feel your pain. We are not rich by any means. When the financial aid advisor showed me the income level needed to receive a grant, he had to flip over 4 pages to get to our income. Really? Hopefully they will forgive my loans after I die. Maybe we can work at the same place until then?

      • Julie V says:

        Actually, Nickel along with his facile, outdated, underlined racist views already ran for president & he won. It is currently called Donald J Trump! Although poc, especially blacks should receive more financial aid due to all they’re forced to endure in this horrid White supremacist society, but honestly no one is seriously ignorant enough to believe that white administratively run institutionas would privilege any other group but their own white kind. Race nepotism is alive & well & will continue until the demographics change! That’s just reality. People are egotistical & selfish. Nothing is ever enough. They want it all even the crumbs. Be proud of your selfishness & ignorance, Nickel!
        You are wrong, Nickel. The article lists factual numbers & states the numbers accurately proving whites are the main recipients of financial aid, unless they are too rich to qualify for financial based aid. You are the one who has it wrong!

    • Liv says:

      You do need to realize that correlation does not equal causation, especially in this context.

    • Matthew says:

      I don’t know about anyone here but I don’t get a penny from financial aid and am having to pay full price by working my way through that means I don’t have as much time for studying like someone who receives financial aid and pays less and it takes away from the quality of my education.

    • Trace A says:

      Nickel, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with what you are saying, in fact I wouldn’t doubt that’s true. I was just curious where, if anywhere, you got your information from?Thanks

  2. nickel says:

    It always surprises me that no one ever responds to the comments? Is there anyone out there who is reading this stuff?

  3. minora hicks says:

    Yes, many are reading and I know many who are well informed who were previous subscribers to the print edition. This journal is very informative although we may not agree with everything published.

  4. Sukey says:

    The discrepancy between the number of whites and blacks receiving merit based financial aid speaks volumes. The reality is that colleges and universities are wasting time, money and effort on students who are not capable or ill prepared to function on the collegate level.. The state of education in this nation has been circling the drain for years and will continue to do so as long as long as mediocrity, not excellence, is an acceptable goal.

    • EJ says:

      And then there are the standards of online comments (somewhere below mediocrity, it seems).

      • Myke D says:

        EJ, I guess you don’t like it when someone speaks the truth. What Sukey says is 100% correct, but by your reply to their comment, I’m guessing you prefer race-based scholarships over merit-based ones, huh? Being a ‘minority’ should supersede having ability and actually deserving an award because of effort, right? Please.

  5. JR says:

    Don’t the findings of the report tend to show that despite decades of trying to improve the educational system of K through 12 we have failed in neighborhoods that suffer economically.

    • D Tschuor says:

      Of course it does. But aggravated white people refuse to acknowledge that the economic disparity that continues to fuel the educational inequalities continues to create situations where poor people, many of them POC, are unable to break into the middle class because they lack the preparation to succeed in college.

  6. Please understand what is done for one is done for all. No one goes without the basic necesities. What the students do with them is up to how they were raised. It has next to nothing to do with the socio economic situation of the student. says:

    Please understand what is done for one is done for all. No one goes without the basic necessities to receive an education. What the students do with them is up to how they were raised. It has next to nothing to do with the socio economic situation of the student

    • D Tschuor says:

      I’m sorry, but I think you are being disingenuous here. You cannot say that a student who attends a school in an underfunded urban school is having the same educational opportunities as one who attends school in a well-funded suburban community.

      Add to that the class and wealth advantages of growing up in a middle class home over poverty and you magnify the already existent inequities.

      Certainly, I understand your point. I believe you are saying that prioritizing educational opportunities starts at home. That what children are taught to value will determine their success.

      The fallacy in that assumption is that even though a family in urban poverty that stresses the value of an education will not always have the knowledge, experience, or financial resources to sustain a young person through the inevitable pitfalls of completing a degree from an institution of higher ed. Additionally, those pitfalls may be deeper and more confounding than those for young people whose parents have better economic means.

  7. Amy Schroeder says:

    I wonder what the average grant/scholarship is for each type? From what I have been researching merit based awards tend to have higher dollar amounts than need based awards. For example the average Pell grant award which is common to needy students only pays on average 1/3 the annual tuition, while some merit based awards cover four years education. (I know that some does not equal all).
    I am curious and would like to find more information about what exactly constitutes merit. Would two students from different circumstances receive equal consideration when advantages/disadvantages are included? For example, would a disadvantaged student from an mediocre school who works hard but still ends up with a lower SAT receive the same type of consideration as an advantaged student from a better school with college prep classes and a higher SAT? How does a college distinguish between a hardworking B student and a coasting through B student? Can they make the determination on who is more meritorious? On one hand the hardworking student is more meritorious simply based on effort, but the second student could have gotten better grades if they tried, and who knows perhaps during college they will find the motivation to strive? By what process does a college select for merit?
    I appreciate any information that could help resolve my inquiry!

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