Study: White Students More Likely to Win College Scholarships

Think there aren't enough scholarships benefiting white students? Think again.

By Jorge Rivas Sep 12, 2011

A new report that analyses the distribution of grants and scholarships by race found students of color are less likely to win private scholarships or receive merit-based institutional grants than white students. The report found that white students receive more than three times as much in merit-based grant and private scholarship funding than students of color.

White students receive more than three-quarters (76 percent) of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding, even though they represent less than two-thirds (62 percent) of the student population, according to the report published by Mark Kantrowitz, the financial aid guru behind and*

Kantrowit believes that the myth that there aren’t enough scholarships for white students comes from highly-qualified white students being turned away and those students in turn assuming the money went to students of color.

"When they don’t win a scholarship, some students express their disappointment by blaming racial or gender preferences and restrictions, implying that minority students would not otherwise qualify for a scholarship," Kantrowit writes in the report "The Distribution of Grants and Scholarships by Race" [PDF.]

But graduating with high class rank does not guarantee that the student will win a scholarship, "since there are more than 85,000 high school valedictorians and salutatorians nationwide each year," Katrowit said.

The report found private sector scholarship programs actually tend to perpetuate historical inequities in the distribution of scholarships according to race:

This does not appear to be due to deliberate discrimination, but rather as a natural result of the personal interests of the scholarship sponsors. Scholarship sponsors tend to establish scholarships that select for characteristics, activities and talents of interest to them. These factors, in turn, tend to resonate with students of the same racial background as the sponsor. For example, African-American students are much less likely to participate in equestrian sports (horseback riding, polo, rodeo), water sports (scuba diving, sailing, surfing, swimming, crew, water polo) and winter sports (ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding, figure skating) than Caucasian students.

The report points out several organizations like Former Majority Association for Equality (FMAE), that only grant scholarships to white students and were founded based on the assumption that the majority of scholarships required applicants to be non-white.

"It just got really frustrating when every other scholarship you happen to find online you need not apply to based on your ethnicity or gender." Colby Bohannan, who’s black and one of the founders of FMAE told a local Dallas television station in June.

The myth that students of color are taking all the scholarship money is so prevalent that policies like California’s Proposition 209 and Michigan’s Civil Rights Initiative (Proposal 2) include mentions that scholarships and financial aid should be awarded solely on the basis of need and ability, not race

"I would say that the race myth is busted," Kantrowit said in an interview with California Watch. "There is no evidence to support statements that minority students get more than their fair share of scholarships. If anything, Caucasian students receive more than their fair share … by a significant margin."

The study was based on 2003-04 and 2007-08 data for hundreds of thousands of students from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

* This piece has been updated since publication.