Will the Federal Government Challenge Merit-Based College Scholarship Programs?

logo_bfThe Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether the Bright Futures scholarship program in Florida is racially discriminatory. The scholarships require students to have a minimum score of 1170 on the reading and mathematics portion of the SAT college entrance examination or a 26 on the ACT test. These score levels are well above the median scores for Black students nationwide and in Florida.

In an e-mail to the Miami Herald, an Education Department spokesperson stated that the department was “investigating allegations that the state of Florida utilizes criteria for determining eligibility for college scholarships that have an effect of discriminating against Latino and African American students on the basis of national origin and race.”

The investigation has far-reaching significance. Many other scholarship programs nationwide have minimum test score requirements that, while not discriminatory on their face, have the effect of disproportionately excluding large percentages of Black and other minority students. Should the Education Department challenge the Florida Bright Futures program, it may be only beginning of a large number of similar challenges nationwide, that will probably ultimately be decided in the courts.

Among the programs where scholarship awards are made, at least in part by results on standardized tests, is the very large National Merit Scholarship program. Since its founding in 1955, the NMSC has recognized 3 million students and provided approximately 387,000 scholarships worth over $1.5 billion.

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