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Fattah Higher Ed Conference Attendees Get Full-Ride Grad School Scholarships

Fattah Higher Ed Conference Attendees Get Full-Ride Grad School Scholarships
By David Pluviose

The 700 students attending the 20th Annual Fattah Conference on Higher Education in Philadelphia knew they would be getting coached on how to navigate their way through graduate school. What they didn’t know is that they’d also get full scholarships through the doctoral level just for showing up.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D.-Pa., in partnership with the Pennsylvania
State System of Higher Education, The Educational Alliance and 17 Pennsylvania colleges and universities, announced a $25 million full-ride scholarship program for any of this year’s conference attendees who are admitted to the graduate programs of the participating schools.
“We’ve been hosting this conference for the last 20 years, and we have had over 10,000 undergraduates participate and go on to graduate school, and on the 20th anniversary, as part of our effort, we asked the participating universities to make available full scholarships,” Fattah says.

Founded in 1987 as the Graduate Opportunities Conference by Fattah, then a Pennsylvania state senator, the conference aims to increase the enrollment of minority students in graduate and professional schools.
“It’s critically important that we get more of our students — particularly African-Americans, Hispanics — to pursue terminal degrees. It’s not something one can legislate,” he says.

Since Fattah first made the scholarship announcement, Philadelphia University and the University of Pennsylvania have also signed on.
“Penn has offered full rides to any one of these students who wants to pursue a doctorate degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Now the numbers are 19 universities who are participating, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are one or two more before it’s over with,” Fattah says.

Dr. Hai-Lung Dai, a professor of chemistry at Penn, sees this announcement as a positive step towards getting more minorities to pursue terminal degrees in the hard sciences.

“Certainly, it’s a very desirable thing to do. You point a very clear path for these students all the way from pre-college to college and then to graduate studies. If one can combine these projects with how to prepare these students in the pre-college stage, so when they go to college and then later on to graduate school, they can do well; then, we have a very good combined effort,” Dai says.

Dr. Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, sounds a similar note.

“I think it’s very important to provide this kind of support, but frankly, I don’t think we lack — at least in my experience in Texas — scholarships for folks. We lack programs that really make them successful,” she says.
“You just don’t want to take a student, give the person a scholarship and throw them into an environment in which they’re going to fail. You want to create a program there that can really foster their success, and then, the sky’s the limit. I think that dual focus is important,” she says.

This announcement comes amid proposed cuts to numerous federal higher education programs by the Bush administration. The fiscal 2007 proposal seeks to eliminate Upward Bound, currently funded at $311 million, Talent Search, currently funded at $145 million, and GEAR UP, currently funded at $303 million. GEAR UP, a program that aims to put college on young students’ radar early, is of particular concern to Fattah.

“Gear Up is my signature program. … They tried to zero out GEAR UP and TRIO last year; they’re back around at it again this year,” he says. “What they’re doing across the board in education flies in the face of the president’s own statement when he spoke the year before last, during a campaign year. He said he was going to be working to strengthen GEAR UP and TRIO.

“Then Bush got in, got re-elected, and the first thing he tries to do is zero those programs out. Congress, to its credit, decided no, we should continue to invest in these programs, and I think that will be the decision this year,” Fattah says.

He adds that GEAR UP has just started a new program in South Dakota that is helping more American Indians go to college on a reservation where less than 4 percent of students opt for higher education. He says the administration’s budget proposal threatens programs that aid tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, historically Black colleges and need-based aid for White students from Appalachia.

“The Bush administration is wrong-headed in terms of its budget priorities. I think the budget as presented is morally bankrupt,” Fattah says. “The president thinks that we should invest billions in smart bombs and pennies in smart children, and he really has missed the boat here. I think that the Congress is going to fight on this. We restored those funds last year, we’re going to restore them again this year.”

Fattah adds that this scholarship initiative also addresses the need to increase minority faculty numbers, which remain very low even on college campuses located in or near major metropolitan centers.

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