Flap over the U.S. Department of Education's...


December 29, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THE RECENT flap over the U.S. Department of Education's attempt to forbid blacks-only scholarships had to do with methods rather than goals.

Everyone believes there should be more blacks in colleges. The question is, what's the best way to achieve that goal? Here's an idea: Forbid blacks-only scholarships.

No, I'm not kidding. Assume (as many college financial ai officials do) that all or almost all scholarships designated for blacks go to those who could afford to go to college without aid. Assume also that for every 10 of these scholarships there are 990 need-based scholarships. Assume that because of the disproportionate number of blacks living in poverty, a third of the need-based scholarships go to blacks.

So 1,000 scholarships of the two sorts we are talking about here result in 340 blacks going to college (330 of 990 plus 10 of 10). If the 10 race-based scholarships were transferred into the need-based pool, only 333 blacks would get scholarships (330 plus 3). But the 10 blacks who lost their scholarships would go to college anyway, so the net result of changing the policy would be to increase the number of blacks on campus from 340 to 343. (Many blacks go to college without regard to either program. That wouldn't change.)

This is no criticism of race-based scholarships to the well-to-do. They're no more wrong than any other scholarships that ignore need. Colleges give scholarships to well-to-do students with very high SATs, or demonstrated excellence in, say, chemistry or mathematics, or football or basketball, or musical performance, etc. Why? Because they want their campuses to become known as centers of excellence in those fields. This attracts faculty, grants and tuition-paying students.

Colleges also should be able to do this in order to achieve ethnic or racial diversity. Suppose a billionaire alum of Johns Hopkins should look around Homewood some homecoming and note that it is about the whitest campus in the world (4 percent black undergraduates). Suppose this old grad should feel that was wrong, or a bad learning environment (or suppose the old grad was black). Suppose she decided to endow scholarships for blacks regardless of need. Nothing wrong with that. (There is one scholarship for blacks at Homewood.)

The Fiesta Bowl in Arizona kicked off this controversy bproposing scholarships for blacks as a way of off-setting criticism of the state for voting down a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

If I had a few million for scholarships honoring Dr. King, I would not make them race-based or need-based but use-based. (Or, as he might put it, "content-of-their-character-based.") They would go to the brightest students of any color who agreed to use their education in urban slums where it is difficult for black youngsters to survive, much less thrive. These scholarships would produce teachers, social workers, cops, doctors and entrepreneurs who would change the world.

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