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An era endangered: graduate fellowships for minorities in jeopardy

Budget cuts are drying up the flow of Department of Education funding for graduate student fellowships.

The effect is one more blow to the drive for diversity in higher education, according to higher education post-graduate experts.

“My view is that it just seems that federal higher education support for graduate students is dead,” said Council of Graduate Studies scholar in residence Anne Pruitt.

After two years of steady decline in the amount of federal funding available for master’s degree and doctoral students, there will be no new applications approved for ED graduate fellowships in fiscal 1996, according to ED assistant secretary David Longanecker.

“Our general strategy now is to focus our resources on areas of the most significant need,” Longanecker told Black Issues In Higher Education as the Clinton administration’s latest budget request was unveiled.

He was referring to department officials’ decision to emphasize the continued funding of undergraduate aid, including the Pell Grants, TRIO programs and other federal student financial assistance programs.

As a result, key funding mechanisms for graduate programs are temporarily stalled, including the Patricia Roberts Harris and Jacob Javits fellowship programs.

“In a budget that’s very tight, some otherwise important and very worthy programs end up taking short shrift,” he said.

The remarks of the department’s senior official for higher education came as the Clinton administration’s fiscal 1997 budget request called for a total of $30 million for graduate fellowship programs — a dramatic drop from last year’s request of $112 million.

The impact of that decline is already evident at ED offices.

“We will not be making new awards for the Patricia Roberts Harris and for the graduate assistance in areas of national need [GANN] programs,” says the recorded telephone greeting to callers at the ED office that handles those two programs.

In 1995, the ED requested $20.2 million — and Congress appropriated $10.2 million — for the Harris fellowship, which provides grants of as much as $23,000 a year for minority master’s and doctoral candidates.

Since fiscal 1996, no money has been requested for the Harris fellowship. Budget requests for the GANN program, which targets graduate study in mathematics, science and computer disciplines for underrepresented groups, dropped from $27.5 million in fiscal 1994 to $27.3 million in 1995, where it remains.

“In our language this year we made it clear we are talking about only a sustaining effort. We want those students to be able to be educated through the completion of the program,” Longanecker said.

Longanecker explained that the GANN money is only to sustain those who were awarded the three-year assistance grants by 1994.

“We are not bringing more students on, but we are not phasing the program out,” he said.

The Clinton administration decision to staunch the flow of federal funds for graduate studies has a double-barreled impact on higher education, according to university administrators.

“The immediate effect is on 18 Patricia Roberts Harris fellowships that we received for master’s degree students in the visual and performing arts,” William Welburn, assistant dean for graduate studies at the University of Iowa said of the $430,000 the school received in 1995 in Harris fellowship assistance.

“A department has to plan to make diversity a part of its program and this allows you to do that,” Welburn said.

“It’s one thing for me to give a student an application for a fellowship and tell him or her to fill it out.” he said. “What’s more important is to be able to sit at a table with representatives from other departments and talk about what we might be able to do to bring diversity into their departments.” he said, noting how the availability of Harris and other fellowship money made it easier to recruit and retain minority students.

All this is happening at a time when the supply of minority doctorates is down and adds a financial hurdle to minorities in higher education just as the battle over racial and gender preferences in admission is heating up.

Against that backdrop, ED officials said they were under pressure to achieve budget reductions to curb the eagerness of a Republican-controlled Congress to eliminate the Department of Education.

“It doesn’t look like we have a savior to speak up for higher education in the House,” Pruitt said.

Outside Washington’s budget-cutting arena, the reductions are viewed as a fresh hurdle for minority access to advanced degrees.

“I find it very disturbing for a couple of reasons. Patricia Roberts Harris is one of Howard’s greatest alumna and the … fellowship program has played an important part in helping Howard fulfill its historical role in producing African Americans with Ph.D. degrees,” said Howard University graduate school dean Orlando Taylor.

The flow of Blacks with master’s and doctorate degrees will come to an abrupt halt as the flow of tuition assistance dries up, he said.

“Because of limited financial opportunities, cutbacks in this program and other federal programs that are specifically designed to increase the number of African Americans … with graduate degrees will mean these disenfranchised Americans will now have less of an opportunity to see their educational aspirations fulfilled,” he said in a statement to Black Issues.

Students, however, say they have already gotten the message the administration and Congress are trying to convey with the assistance reductions.

Without the $1,000 a month he receives from the Harris fellowship, Kabby Mitchell 3rd, a master’s of fine arts degree candidate at the University of Iowa at Iowa City, would be one more aging dance teacher back in his Seattle, WA, hometown.

“If you don’t get in on programs now, it’s just going to get much tighter,” he said. “It’s the end of an era.”

Members of the Patricia Robert Harris Followship Program, 1995 Total Total Fellowships Award University of South Alabama-Mobile 12 286,716 Auburn University 6 143,358 University of Arkansas-Little Rock 2 47,786 University of Arizona-Tucson 3 71,679 Arizona State University-Tempe 25 597,325 California State University-Fullerton 4 95,572 University of California-Berkeley 2 47,786 Humbolt State University 2 47,766 California State University-Hayward 8 191,144 San Francisco State University 4 95,572 University of Northern Colorado 3 71,679 Howard University 2 47,786 Florida International University 2 47,786 University of Georgia 11 262,823 University of Iowa 18 430,074 Illinois State University 2 47,786 Purdue University-West Lafayette 10 238,930 Eastern Kentucky University 8 191,144 Bentley College 2 47,786 University of Massachusetts-Amherst 4 95,572 Emerson College 3 71,679 Boston University 3 71,679 Wayne State University 2 47,786 Michigan State University 2 47,786 University of St. Thomas 2 47,786 University of Missouri-Columbia 4 95,572 Mississi ppi Valley State University 2 47,786 University of Mississippi 6 143,358 North Carolina Central University 2 47,786 University of North Carolina-Greensboro 2 47,786 University of North Dakota-Grand Forks 2 47,786 University of New Jersey-Camden 2 47,786 Rutgers University-New Brunswick 13 310,609

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

Funding for Graduate Education, Selected Years 1994 1995 1996 Request Women and Minority Participation in Graduate Education 5.8 -- -- Harris Fellowships 20.4 10.1 -- Javits Fellowships 7.9 6.8 -- Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need 27.5 27.3 27.3 Faculty Development Fellowships 3.5 2.1 3.7 TOTAL 65.1 46.3 31.0

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

RELATED ARTICLE: A Brief Description Of Graduate Fellowship Programs

Women and Minority Participation in Graduate Education — The award is granted to institutions of higher education for identifying talented undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and are from minority groups underrepresented in graduate education. The program provides those students identified with opportunities to prepare for graduate study.

Harris Fellowship — Provides fellowship and institutional support in academic and professional areas to assist minorities and women in undertaking graduate and professional study in academic fields in which they historically have been underrepresented.

Javits Fellowship — Provides fellowships to graduate degree candidates of superior ability pursuing graduate study in the arts, humanities and social science for periods not to exceed 48 months. A board establishes the general policies for the program, selects the fields in which fellowships are to be awarded and determines the number of fellowships each year for designated fields.

Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need — Provides fellowships to reward excellence and encourage continued learning. Participating graduate schools must seek out students from underrepresented groups. Because the program supports study in the mathematics, science, and computer disciplines, it makes an important contribution toward national economic competitiveness.

Faculty Development Fellowships — The award grants to institutions of higher education or consortia of higher education or consortia of institutions and nonprofit organizations to provide fellowships to faculty members and other students from minority groups who wish to obtain a doctoral degree, and to enable minority faculty members to participate in professional development programs designed to advance their careers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

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