WESTMINSTER - Western Maryland College officials, who want to boost minority recruitment on the predominantly white campus, say they are concerned about a federal order banning scholarships directed at minority students.
A U.S. Department of Education official said last week that colleges and universities that receive federal dollars are barred by civil rights law from granting scholarships limited by race.
The apparent policy shift could imperil an undetermined number of scholarship programs designed to benefit minorities, civil rights and college officials said.
Michael L. Williams, assistant education secretary for civil rights, acknowledged to reporters he had not discussed the issue with anyone at the White House. But he declared the intent of the law is clear.
"We do meet the letter of the law, but we will review the policy very carefully," said Joyce Muller, Western Maryland's director of public information. "We don't have any non-need scholarship aid intended for minority students."
But college officials would like to offer more financial aid to recruit minority students, she said.
She said the school receives federal dollars for academic, or non-need, scholarships each year. The amount varies from year to year, and the scholarships have not been helpful in attracting minority students, she said.
"Many minority students need more than we can offer," Muller said. "We feel that as an institution we need to seek more diversity and attract more minority students."
Western Maryland has 1,258 students; 48, or 3.8 percent, are minority students.
It attracted 17 minority students this year, Muller said, but lost 15 from the previous year.
"We need a real strong incentive to attract minority students and create a diverse campus, especially on a campus that is predominantly white," she said.
The academic scholarships are available to students of all races and are awarded based on academic achievement, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and high school extracurricular activities.
She said the college hopes to offer more than academic-based scholarships in the future and was hoping to seek additional federal dollars to do so.
State education officials, though, said Maryland may be shielded for now from the federal order, because the scholarships here are part of a court-ordered desegregation plan and so are exempted from a directive from the U.S. Department of Education.
However, state education officials say the 5-year-old court order is to expire in about two years, leaving the long-term future of the scholarships in doubt.
The loss of the money could have a devastating impact on Maryland institutions' efforts to recruit minority students, state officials said.
"They may not be affected for the time being, but once the grants run out . . . they might not be replaced," said Anna Breland, financial aid director at the University of Baltimore.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.