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Comprehensive Exam Question 3:

How Race-Based Scholarships affect

Recipients Based on Race, Class, and Ethclass

Brandi N. Hutchins

University of Cincinnati


Race in higher education continues to be a controversial topic, especially in the allocation of scholarships. However, the consideration of financial assistance based on one’s social class is becoming more common. Opponents of affirmative action and all race-based policies tend to favor governmental assistance that benefits the poor. Another factor that is being considered in higher education is the student’s ethclass, which pertains to the intersection of their race and class. Students enter the university at many different levels, and each racial group has specific obstacles that must be addressed. The author will examine the obstacles of three racial groups and address the importance of race-based scholarships on the recipient using the University of Maryland’s Meyerhoff Scholarship Program as a model.

How Race Based Scholarships affect

Recipients Based on Race, Class, and Ethclass

Race-based scholarships continue to be deeply scrutinized in higher education because race is the major emphasis. Those who oppose these awards, especially conservatives, feel that the dynamics of race are not needed for admission into college. They acknowledge that Americans have equal opportunity if one demonstrates hard work and that minorities need to take more initiative and stop considering themselves as victims.

In reality, the race card continues to be played in mainstream society. Race policies are designed to correct discrimination that continues to taint opportunities for minorities. In addition to race, the issue of social class is becoming just as important. Those considered lower class are viewed as disadvantaged, which could also equate to having fewer opportunities. The present issue in higher education is that race and class impact students and the opportunities that they are granted.

In the following paper, the author will discuss the affects of race and class on scholarship recipients and students of color in general. Given that race policies continue to be overly criticized and have been prohibited at many institutions; the information provided will shed light on how race policies could positively benefit the educational and life experiences of students of color at predominantly White institutions.

Students of Color

Attending college, for some, is a momentous achievement and anticipated if the student has been adequately prepared to undertake this endeavor. Being prepared could pertain to many facets, for example, it is beneficial if a student has taken college preparatory courses, it is helpful if parents have been active participants in the student’s education, and it is also key that a student is knowledgeable and equipped to meet the financial challenges associated with higher education. The thought of attending college could be an exciting time for many students, but for students of color, the excitement could also be partnered with the reality that their race and social class could be a hindrance in their life, especially at a predominately White institution. Carnevale and Rose (2004) indicate that even with affirmative action policies, Blacks and Hispanics are labeled underrepresented at many selective universities. This is not only prevalent at top colleges; it is also common among many predominantly White institutions. Carnevale and Rose (2004) also point out that minority recruitment has dropped significantly in the last decade; however, recruitment among the economically disadvantaged has increased.

Who are minority students and who are disadvantaged? On college campuses, when defining minority students, the term encompasses African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. Each racial group has specific obstacles that are unique to their culture due to their race and socioeconomic status. A brief summary of these differences for Asian, Hispanic, and African Americans will be explored.

Asian American Students

Kodama, McEwen, Liang, and Lee (2001) indicate that Asian American students are the fastest growing racial group at U.S. universities. They also have a greater chance of being selected to top colleges than Blacks and Hispanics (Carnevale & Rose, 2004). Asian students could face many challenges once they enter college. A common issue that they face is one of isolation and alienation. Based on Arthur Chickering’s psychosocial theory of student development, Kodama at el. (2001) provides an extensive inventory of factors that pertain to Asian student development on campus which will be explained.

The most common stereotype of Asian Americans is that they are identified as the “model minority.” This term originated in the 1960’s, but was popularized in the 1980’s (Kodama at el., 2001). This label suggests that out of all the minority groups that are present in the United States, the Asian group is the barometer for others. Undoubtedly, this could be a demeaning observation. If this notion holds true, that Asians are the model minority, they are also expected to be academically brilliant. Consequently, this stereotype could cause Asian students to have an unsatisfactory college experience. Kodama at el. (2001) states that Asian values such as, interdependence with family, maintaining interpersonal harmony, emotional restraint, and an economic and academic definition of success, are incorporated in their college experience. Kodama at el. (2001) adds that their ancestry is always recognized, “through their immigration status, generational status, geographic location, peer groups, Asian political movements, and their level of acculturation” (p. 414). Asian students bring these principles with them upon entering higher education.

Kodama at el. (2001) found that many fourth generation Asians have adopted Western cultural values and beliefs. Many Asian students, who live in predominately White neighborhoods, identify with their demographics. Many of their peer groups do not consist of other Asian students. Although some Asians have adopted Eurocentric ideologies, Kodama at el. (2001) outlines the major psychosocial issues that Asian students face: intellectual competence, emotional restraint, interdependence, relationships, identity, purpose, and their integrity. These values could be problematic in their quest to achieve academically and professionally. Kodama at el. (2001) explanation of each psychosocial issue will be summarized:

For Asian Americans, their intellectual competence is based on the relationship of their families, peer groups, and society. As young children, education in ingrained in their development. Asian children are expected to achieve. They are known to experience achievement stress. This pressure can cause students not to pay attention to other important issues in their lives, which could lead to social anxiety and introversion.

Many Asian Americans learn emotional restraint by keeping their feelings and emotions inside. They tend to strive for peace and tranquility and usually limit their verbal communication for fear of embarrassment. In their culture, passivity is acknowledged as a sign of strength. Kodama at el. (2001) states that this could be problematic for the Asian students since many college campuses promote attitudes and behaviors of activism and verbalization. This modesty could result from parents who put their own career goals over the needs of their child.

Asian interdependence is defined by the family unit. The family is paramount as a unit. A student’s future could be dictated by the family. Unlike Western culture, the adolescent strive for independence. In the Asian culture, the family is known to place many demands on the student collegiate decisions.

Asian relationships are comprised of nonconfrontational interactions. Many students are known to segregate themselves from conflict. Interestingly, Kodama at el. (2001) discovered that some Asian students develop cultural shock when they attend a predominantly White institution. This may be the first time that they have seen a large influx of Asian students in one setting. This could be common for those students who grew up in predominately White neighborhoods.

Asians have been classified as “the model minority” but some develop identity crises because they may only associate with the White culture. However, many continue to be discriminated against based on their race, ancestry, language barrier, and intellectual ability.

Many Asian American’s primary purpose in life is to obtain a higher education. This ideal is heavily stressed by parental control. Most parents feel that higher education is an economic necessity that will lead to better opportunities and will lessens racial discrimination. Kodama at el. (2001) further adds that for Asian students, college is not a time to play and find one’s self. College is a serious undertaking that leads to future career preparation. Parents may relentlessly stress academic majors such as science, engineering, and medicine which will guarantee them careers that are economically secure.

Integrity is a characteristic that is very important to Asian culture. Kodama at el. (2001) states that integrity is how one represents their family and upholds Asian traditions and values. On campus, Asian students must uphold their integrity to be accepted and supported by their family (pp. 416-426).

Hispanic American Students

According to the United States Census Bureau, by the year 2010 the Hispanic population will be the largest minority group in the United States (Rodriguez, Guido-DiBrito, Torres, & Talbot, 2000). Recruitment of Hispanic students has increased in the last decade at many universities. They are sought out to diversify college campuses. This racial group has also been labeled disadvantaged and Hispanic students have certain obstacles that could hinder their development in higher education.

Many Hispanics in America have faced financial roadblocks and are on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. Rodriguez et al.(2000), has done extensive research on the Hispanic population and found that many Hispanics in the United States are unemployed, many children attend segregated and poor schools, and many have not obtained their high school diploma. They have a high dropout rate. To further their education, many will take vocational courses in high school and go directly into the workforce. It is further added that those who decide to obtain a higher education are known to enter community colleges instead of attending a four-year institution (Rodriguez et al., 2000, pp. 514-516).

Hispanics have been stereotyped as being undisciplined, irrational, and passive (Rodriguez et al., 2000). If Hispanic students decide to pursue a four-year college education, Rodriguez et al.(2000) provides four leading causes of stress, which include: the lack of financial resources, academic issues, family obligations and expectations, and gender-role stereotyping. Many Hispanic students cannot depend on the financial support from their parents to fund their higher educational expenses, which makes it challenging to attend college. Rodriguez et al.(2000) states that students do not want to be a financial strain on their parents. This concern limits their desire to attend college. When they begin their academic coursework, Rodriguez et al.(2000) implies that many Hispanic students feel insecure about their academic preparedness. Many feel that they have not been adequately prepared for such a challenging undertaking. The feeling of inadequacy could cultivate low expectations and pessimistic attitudes about college (2000).

The Hispanic population, like other minority groups, face discrimination and stereotyping. Rodriguez et al.(2000) states that they encounter racism both in the classroom and social settings. They are known to relate to the term “multiple marginality” which encompasses three factors, their race, class, and gender (Rodriguez et al., 2000). These factors could cause Hispanic students to disassociate from social and academic opportunities. Suarez, Fowers, Garwoodm, and Szapocznik (1997) found that the most common issue Hispanic student’s face is the feeling of loneliness and alienation. They further referenced several reasons why these feelings occur. First, tension arises among the student, their family, peers, and around societal expectations. Second, some students are uncomfortable with their biculturalism and feel that they have to adapt to their surrounding environment. Third, the difference in value orientation of peer groups could make one isolate themselves from others. Finally, difficulties persist when students battle with acculturation (Suarez at el., 1997, pp. 490-491). They compromise their feelings and behaviors to assimilate, which could result in alienation and isolation from others.

Rodriguez et al.(2000) found that special orientation programs, summer bridge programs, learning communities, and mentoring have helped high achieving Hispanic students succeed on campus. These programs introduce students to the campus and expose them to resources which enhance their growth and development. Also, many Hispanic students feel that study spaces, meeting friends, developing relationships with faculty and advisors, networking with peers, and becoming familiar with academic departments have helped them become successful (Rodriguez et al., 2000).

Rodriguez et al.(2000), suggests that in order for Hispanic students to be attracted to higher education, there must be financial provisions such as scholarships and grants, to offset college expenses. Academic support systems must be in place so that trained professionals can provide guidance and assistance throughout college. There must be social and cultural support systems where they can interact with peers who look like them or have similar goals. Finally, the campus environment must promote a welcoming atmosphere that embraces and celebrates diversity (pp. 522-523).

African American Students

African American students have been found to encounter many issues on college campuses. Unfortunately, these concerns are based solely on the color of their skin and the conscious or unconscious belief that they are inferior. The discrimination that persists could result from White supremacist views, racist ideologies, and stereotypes. At a predominantly White institution, Blacks students have been known to experience racism, self-segregation, academic underperformance, and low retention and graduation rates. Each of these issues can affect the lives of Black students and leave permanent impressions on relationships with Whites throughout their lives.

The African American experience is rooted in the construct of oppression. Cureton (2003) quotes the following oppressive features, which are “social, cultural, and economic deprivation, lack of education and employment, racial stereotyping, exploitation, discrimination, interracial and intraracial conflict, alienation from conventional institutions, legal discretionary justice, Black-on Black crime, victimization, and dysfunctional family processes (p. 295). As a result, the African American student’s social development, self-esteem, and personal confidence are greatly affected (2003). These social issues could also hinder younger generation’s ability to find ways to improve their lives (Cureton, 2003).

Another concern that arises from racist ideologies are microaggressions. Davis defines racial microaggressions as “stunning, automatic acts of disregard that stem from unconscious attitudes of White superiority and constitute a verification of Black inferiority” (as cited in Soloranzo, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000, p. 60). Microagressions make students feel that they do not belong. The subtlety of microagressions are dynamic. It could be a glance of the eye which can be interpreted as “I am not wanted or welcomed here.” The goal of microaggressions are to make ethnic groups feel invisible and inferior. Lett and Wright (2003) suggests that forms of discriminatory and racists attitudes from Whites can be distressing to African Americans. It could cause harm to the psyche, could lessen self-esteem, retard cognitive and affective development, lead to feelings of isolation, alienation, depression, dissonance, and a discontinuance of education. They can also affect one’s mental health by elevating feelings of anger, repressed rage, and anxiety (Lett & Wright, 2003).

A common concern at predominantly White institutions is the fact that African Americans tend to self-segregate themselves on campus. Howard-Hamilton (2003) indicates that students of color are known to establish academic and social counterspaces on campus by finding and interacting with those who look like them in a location or space that is comfortable to them. She further notes that African American students may gravitate to organizations and activities that embody more Afrocentric ideologies and find comfort in areas such as Black or multicultural centers (Howard-Hamilton, 2003). Allen (1992) comments that Black students experience considerable adjustment difficulties and find it necessary to create their own social and cultural networks in order to remedy their exclusion from the White oriented campus community. Allen (1992) further adds that the most serious concerns for African Americans arise from isolation, alienation, and lack of support.

Demeaning and negative terms have been used to describe the plight of African Americans in higher education; however, there are some positive factors that have contributed to their academic success and development. Cureton (2003) indicates that many African American students specify that a nurturing environment strongly affects their academic performance. Cureton (2003) also highlights the research of Dorsey and Jackson who found that internal factors such as self-concept, personal motivation, and aspiration have also benefited their success. Other factors that have assisted in their achievement on predominately White institutions are their social development, social adjustment, college preparation, and their academic aspirations and abilities (Cureton, 2003).

The commonality of each racial group was the feeling of alienation and isolation on predominately White campuses. Cureton (2003) states another major concern, especially for Black students, is the fact the cultural deprivation and socioeconomic status drastically hinders their success and achievement on campus. All of the characteristics described are very important to the journey of minority students. These issues seem to be racially exclusive. Each ethnic group possesses distinguishable qualities that are rooted in historical discrimination that derive from their skin color, language barriers, ancestry, and native country. It is imperative that all of these factors be taken into consideration as universities strive to diversify their student body.

Class in the University

The student’s social class has become a popular topic in higher education. The problem is that many students cannot afford the expense of higher education, especially minority students. Carnevale and Rose (2004) emphasized the impact of socioeconomic status on students and reported the following:

1. Most students who attend highly selective universities come from families of higher socioeconomic status.

2. Students from lower socioeconomic households were shown to have lower college graduation rates than students from higher socioeconomic homes.

3. Most students who come from high income families and have college educated parents, were more likely to live in supportive neighborhoods, have quality school systems, and have encouraging and supportive home environments. All of these factors encourage a student’s desire to attend college.

4. Most higher income families can afford funding a highly selective college education for their student.

5. Parental education is a factor in a student’s decision to attend college. Families of low socioeconomic status had diminished educational expectations.

6. Students from lower socioeconomic families were less likely to take rigorous college preparatory courses (pp. 106-131).

These social class dynamics have taken the focal point off of race in higher education. Research shows that many students of color cannot afford to attend college. Solmon, Solmon, and Schiff (2002) provide explanations why minority college enrollment rates have remained below Whites: (1) poverty forces Black and Hispanic youth to drop out of high school to find employment to support the family, (2) those who find work may feel that earning a paycheck is more important than attending college, (3) opportunities for students of color to attend college decrease as college costs increase and need-based financial aid declines, (4) governmental grants continue to decrease, and (5) as student’s loans continue to grow, there is greater pressure to drop-out to pay off accumulating debt (pp. 53-54).

Carnevale and Rose (2004) found that Americans associate disadvantage with income more than they do with race. They further add, that almost half of the Americans polled in their research indicated that most Blacks and Hispanics are disadvantaged. Also, most Americans preferred policies to assist students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged than they do with affirmative action policies that emphasize race. Carnevale and Rose (2004) also posed the question, “If there were two equally qualified students, one rich and one poor, which one should be admitted to college?” Most of the respondents favored the poor student. Through this admission, Americans appear to be sympathetic to the poor.

Based on Gordon’s research of assimilation in America, a new term has emerged entitled “ethclass.” To define ethclass, Danigelis (1982) alludes to Gordon’s definition that “ethclass is the portion of social space created by intersecting one’s ethnic group and social class” (p. 533). Danigelis further states that ethclass is “the most significant unit of social behavior” (p. 533). The focus in higher education suggests that race and class are independent of one another; either the student is a minority or of lower social economic class. However, ethclass explains that race and class are interdependent; each factor supports the other’s existence. In Danigelis’ research on race, class, and political involvement, an individual’s ethclass described their political activity. Blacks of lower socioeconomic status were more politically active than middle class Blacks or lower class Whites. This increased involvement, Danigelis (1982) points out, expels the concept of Blacks feeling isolated; their ethclass provided more incentive for them to become involved. Danigelis (1982) also declared that the goal of ethclass is to look at how race and class are related and not treat them as separate entities. In higher education, the discussion of minority student’s ethclass is significant since their race and class are inclined to interrelate.

Race-based Scholarships and the Recipients

The enigma of race and class could explain why race-scholarships are a necessity for the successful matriculation of minority students at predominantly White institutions. There is not much research on race-specific scholarships and their impact on the recipient; however, Fries-Britt (1998) provides information pertaining to Black achievers in a race-based scholarship program. The program is entitled the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program. Her findings will be discussed throughout this section.

The Meyerhoff program was established in 1989 at the University of Maryland. This scholarship originated to address the needs of Black males who majored in science. In 1990, the program opened its doors to female students, and in 1996 (following the Poderesky decision in 1995) other minorities and White students were admitted. The program emphasizes the following areas: financial support, study groups, tutoring, personal and academic advising, connection with mentors, and internship placements. Fries-Britt (1998) indicated the following factors that affect academically talented African American students:

1. They face social-emotional adjustment issues and acceptance from peers.

2. They have identity issues with being labeled “gifted” or “academically talented.”

3. They are criticized by peers as “acting White” or not being “Black enough.” (p.557)

The positive impact that the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program had on academically talented African American students were:

1. The scholarship program helped students network with peers to lessen the feeling of isolation.

2. The scholarship program allowed Black achievers to be exposed to students who looked like them which enhanced their esteem for other academically talented Black students.

3. The scholarship program provided resources such as: financial awards, computer access, and tutoring.

4. The scholarship program allowed Black students to seek other Black students for support.

5. The scholarship program was identified as prestigious and faculty held the students in high regard.

6. The scholarship program provided staff support and incorporated a family-like setting for the students (pp. 562-567).

Fries-Britt (1998) observed the challenges faced by some students in the program. These challenges included: a) resentment from others who were not accepted into the program, b) the dislike, from outsiders, of special treatment the recipients received, c) jealousy from outsiders because recipients where titled “scholars” and, d) some outsiders felt that the recipients did not earn the right to be in a scholarship program (pp. 564-566).

The Meyerhoff program is a model of many similar types of race-based scholarship programs at major universities. Unfortunately, these scholarship programs have also been challenged by opponents of affirmative action. The Meyerhoff program has gone through transitions like many other race-based programs. As previously mentioned, the program was first developed to assist Black males. Currently, the program is inclusive, admitting all races. According to the 2006 freshman recipients, the program awarded 48 scholarships. The racial make up was 19% Caucasian, 27% Asian American, 50% African American, 4% Hispanic American and Native American (University of Maryland, 2007). As a result of the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship’s lawsuit decision (Poderesky vs. Kirwan), the Supreme Court ruled against all race-based scholarships and policies at the University of Maryland. Many scholarship programs are facing similar transition without considering how these changes may affect the students who are already well-established in the program.


African American recipients in the Meyerhoff scholarship program remarked that programs of this magnitude promote academic excellence, self-esteem, self concept, provide a family support system, and allow them to be with students who look like them (Fries-Britt, 1998). These programs are embracing and relieve the feeling of isolation and alienation. In addition, they provide counterspaces which allow students to feel safe in environments that have historically oppressed people of color.

Many students of color are attracted to programs and activities on campus that celebrate diversity. This allows them the opportunity to interact with students with similar backgrounds and academic goals. Currently, merit-based scholarships have increased in popularity over race and need-based scholarships. Black (2003) asked the question who goes to college? She indicated that those who receive merit-based scholarships are predominantly middle to upper class White students. She adds that Black students of lower class status are less likely to attend college (2003).

In higher education, meritocracy is paramount. Pertaining to race-based scholarships, merit is also an important factor that is incorporated. Race-based scholarships have been known to provide opportunities such as support systems, career guidance and placement, leadership development programs that cater to each ethnic group, co-op and internships opportunities, enhancement of self-esteem, extended service to the greater community, and provide the recipients with exposure and notoriety. All of these factors could benefit minority students who have historically been oppressed and left out of opportunities. As academic requirements continue to increase and as merit-based scholarships continue to have an overwhelming precedence in higher education; the students who may continue to be left out are Blacks and Hispanics. Race-policies continue to be challenged in higher education. As colleges campuses strive for diversification, they must examine their elitist policies that contain embedded subtle racist undertones which strategically keep certain students out of the equation.


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Soloranzo, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggression, and campus racial climate: The experience of African American college students. The Journal of Negro Education, 69, 60-73.

Suarez, S.A., Fowers, B.J., Garwood, C.S., & Szapocznik, J. (1997). Biculturalism, differentness, loneliness, and alienation in Hispanic college students. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 19, 489-505.

University of Maryland, Meyerhoff Scholarship program freshman class profile. Retrieved August 2, 2007 from


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