National Merit Scholarship Corporation Ends Its Program for Black Students Entering College

national_merit_logoThe National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in Evanston, Illinois, was founded in 1955 with funding from the Ford Foundation to give scholarship awards to new college students based on their performance on the PSAT test. While the NMSC claims to have no data on the race of who receives their scholarships, data from the College Board shows that Blacks typically make up between 1 and 2 percent of the very top scorers on these types of standardized tests.

It is likely that very few Black students were qualifying for National Merit Scholarships. So, in 1964, the organization founded the National Achievement Scholarship Program for Outstanding Negro Students. This was subsequently shortened to the National Achievement Scholarship Program. Over the past 51 years, 34,000 Black students have received about $108 million in scholarship awards under this Black-only program.

Now the last cohort of National Achievement Scholars has entered college. The NMSC has announced that a new program will be administered by the United Negro College Fund called the Achievement Capstone Program. No longer will entering college students receive scholarships to help them pay for college. Now students who graduate from historically Black colleges or universities or predominantly Black educational institutions will be eligible to receive money to help them pay off college loans or to help them finance graduate study.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, told JBHE that he has no idea why the NMSC decided to end its program for Black students entering college. He said that “the termination of the National Achievement Scholars Program means that even fewer top African American high school students will receive college tuition aid from the National Merit Scholarship Program. The misuse of PSAT results to select semifinalists in the main competition has long guaranteed that very few Blacks win awards from the main program, because of historic racial gaps in test scores. The separate-but-unequal National Achievement Scholar competition provided a partial offset to that inequity.  What will replace those funds for talented, low-income teenagers?”

Comments (7)

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  1. Sharron Hunter-Rainey says:

    I was a good student, but a poor child from a single parent household. I probably would not have become a chemical engineer without the National Achievement scholarship, sponsored by Consolidated Foods, that paid all of my tuition, plus some of my room and board during my first year at Purdue University. This scholarship, plus another from the company that launched my career, kept me from taking loans until my junior and senior years of undergraduate school. I recognize the dynamics of higher education have changed since 1979, but the end of this era is still very sad news to me.

  2. Jerald Henderson, PhD says:

    After reading this article, I am as puzzled by this decision as Mr. Schaeffer. Given the data regarding minority students incurring more debt to complete a college degree, I think the only component that should be revised is the criteria for eligibility for scholarship money. Providing financial assistance at the front end (when they transition into college), would be of greater use for first generation students than awarding the money at the completion end. It has already been documented in many studies that one of the reasons why African American students as well as other minority students do not complete their four year degree is financial. This decision to earmark money for those after graduation and only those who have attended HBCUs is very puzzling.

  3. Michael says:

    If the collective Black community has an estimated “buying power of $1.1 trillion by 2015” (Baker 2013, para 1), then we should have already created and maintained a similar program to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) for the Black community. If this is correct, then, the Black community should be dutifully embarrassed in 2015 for not having the foresight to establish our own organization to perform similar functions. However, due to multiculturalism along with neoliberalism, the Black community are being socially engineered to be “all things for all people”. All the while, other racial and ethnic groups still are dictating whether or not if we will receive mis-education at their Historically White Colleges and Universities. In my view, this program is nothing more than a 21st century colonial project.

    For those who dissent, you need to ask yourself why our Black high school graduates are matriculating at any of our 103-105 HBCUs? Until we have enough faith in our own Black people to educate our Black college students, we will continue to be cannon fodder for everyone else.

  4. Lynn says:

    Whoever thought of replacing a program designed to encourage and assist talented African-Americans to enter and complete college with a program to assist potential African-American graduate students is TOTALLY missing the point. This is a true shame. How many promising students will never get to the point where they might be eligible because they can’t afford to complete college? A dunce move, especially ironic coming from an organization supposedly concerned with brilliance.

    • Marion says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Lynn. Four-year undergraduate scholarships for low-income students are desperately needed regardless of race, but for Black students the need is still as urgent as it was 50 years ago. I think a good response to this action is to find other organizations who are having success with similar efforts–or have the potential to–and help fund their scholarship programs. Or, get together and create one.

  5. Carter Whitson, Ph.D. says:

    I was a National Achievement Scholar in 1971. I didn’t receive diddly-squat except a picture in my high school year book. Indeed, that was the first and only time I heard about the award. Go figure.

  6. April says:

    “While the NMSC claims to have no data on the race of who receives their scholarships…”
    How is that possible when the PSAT asks for racial data on the student test form? Yes, it’s optional but why collected it then claim you have no info on who receives the scholarship? Sounds like a scheme to give out even less money since more blacks start college than finish.

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