As if the assault on affirmative action hasn’t produced enough ominous clouds over higher education, the outlook for graduate and professional schools is becoming stormier than ever.
Federal education spending cutbacks have decimated the best-known federally funded fellowship programs for African Americans, setting off a scramble for a pot of private foundation aid that has now expanded to cover the gap caused by the federal spending cuts.
Financial woes for graduate and professional students are underscored by the record pace at which they are borrowing to meet tuition needs. Between 1993 and 1995, the annual volume of loans for grad students soared by 73 percent from $4.4 billion in 1993 to $7.7 billion in 1995. “There’s no way that the private sector can pick up the slack,” says Dr. Allison Bernstein, director of the Ford Foundation’s education program. She noted that Ford spends $5.5 million in fellowships for students. The available money ranges from as little as $15,000 to as much as $30,000.”
In light of the federal cutbacks, however, she says, the foundation is considering increasing its fellowship spending for African Americans “We think the problems (facing minority graduate and professional students) are long standing of under-representation. The fair thing to say is what can we do and, at what scale,” she explains: “The one thing we can say without equivocation is, that there is going to be more pressure on private sources of funding,” says Thomas Rozzell, director of fellowships for the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.
`Hit’ Disproportionately The funding question is the most visible element of the barriers facing the African American, college graduates who want to achieve a degree beyond the undergraduate level. “It’s the tip of the mountain of politics surrounding graduate education,” says Howard Adams, director of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minority ties in Engineering and Science. Adams is among the Black advocates of Black graduate education who say that the cutbacks in higher education funding hit Blacks disproportionately hard.
The system “steered Black students to government trough just as it was drying up,” says Adams of the flow of federal funds for the key graduate fellowships to be funded by the government. He was referring to the Congressional move to stanch the flow of federal funding for graduate programs, notably 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 getting short shrift,” says one high ranking U.S. Department of Education (ED) official of the budget cuts. The remarks of this senior official were made as the Clinton administration unveiled a fiscal 1997 budget request that called for a total of $30 million for graduate fellowship programs — a dramatic distance the administration has come from the $112 million sought by ED for fiscal 1995. In 1995, the ED requested $20.2 million – and Congress appropriated $10.2 million – for the Harris fellowships that provided grants of up to $23,000 a year for minority masters and doctoral candidates.
Since fiscal 1996, no money has been requested for the Harris fellowship. Budget requests for the graduate assistance in areas of national need program, which targets minorities pursuing graduate studies in mathematics, science and computer disciplines, dropped from $27.5 million in fiscal 1994 to $27.3 million in 1995, where it has remained through the fiscal 1996 and 1997 budget requests.
Just two months after the administration proposed its fiscal 1997 budget to Congress, the Council for Aid to Education came out with more bad news for would be graduate school students. it announced in its annual report that foundation support for the nation’s colleges and universities was in a period of stagnant growth. (see “Percentage of Students Who Borrow by Race/Ethnicity”). The council estimated that the $12.75 billion given by foundations to higher education in 1995 was a mere 3.2 percent increase over the 1994 figures.
“Considering the impact of enrollment and inflation together, inflation-adjusted contributions per student were unchanged from the prior year,” the Council said in a statement. Muted Applause For these reasons, many advocates of Blacks in graduate school asserted, the news that a record number of Blacks earned Ph.D.s should be greeted with muted applause.
The dilemma facing would-be engineers, physicians, college professors and research scientists is finding the right pot of gold at a time when private foundations are not expanding. According to scholars of graduate education, grabbing a slice of the pie is tough and likely to get worse as private foundations try to spread their resources across an expanding population.
Because so many programs have a government contribution component in them, it is difficult to nail down just how big the gap is between what the federal government used to provide and what is being asked of the private foundations. Still, college administrators lament, that the task of making up the difference is a daunting one. “It’s huge,” says Terri Harris Reed, assistant dean of the school of public affairs at the University Maryland.
Dr. Reed also is program coordinator for the university’s Public Policy and Inter national Affairs Statute, a project in which undergraduate students in their junior year are exposed to international affairs and, if they meet the academic requirements and commit to enrolling in an affairs masters’ degree programs, offered a fellowship to cover three years of graduate school tuition.
Harsh Fiscal Realityp
For the average graduate student, harsh fiscal reality is that they are going to have to look hard for money to pay for school. Even if they find an attractive looking financial aid package, it often covers only the first year of a three year program or is subject to reduction after the first year as the school uses part of the fellowship to entice more graduate students. In addition they face tough competition from foreign students.
“I’ve come to recognize that there is a deliberate preference for foreign students over Black students,” says former Morgan State graduate school dean Frank Morris. Dr. Morris contends that foreign students are favored because they are less contentious, more diligent and often well-drilled in academic skills useful to needs of the scholars who supervise them.
The Education Resources-Institute of Higher Education Policy report says that the average annual cost of graduate tuition in 1995 was $6,177. For the professional schools, the annual tariff was even higher: $12,194 for law school, $13,666 for medicine and $14,398 for dentistry. At those prices, the idealistic motivations for becoming a lawyer, science professor or even a librarian are tempered by the blunt reality of post-graduate debt, says Percy Luney, dean of the North Carolina Central University Law school.
“Many students get in so much debt hat when they come out they are under pressure to find a high paying job, After they graduate, they can’t follow their conscience. They have to service their debts,” Luney says. He and other graduate school experts say money is available to cover tuition, fees and the living costs associated with full-time graduate study but the minority student is going to have to approach the quest with a single-minded focus and a bit of resourcefulness.
For example, a young woman, now in her second year of teaching Japanese at a historically Black college said her minority colleagues at a highly selective graduate school for international affairs were amazed, and jealous, when they found out how she was meeting her tuition.
She had a National Science Foundation fellowship that covered the then$13,000 a year tuition and paid a $1,100 a month stipend as well. How did she find it? By looking through announcement circulars and not assuming the word “science” limited the fellowship to the hard sciences. “I figured they must have something for social science candidates, and I was right,” she says.
That approach is what is needed to succeed, says Howard Adams. “If you do what you did to get into undergraduate school, you won’t even get in grad school,” he says. He advises students to get on the process early and to seek money at the same time admissions is being sought. Students of color are also up against a system that rewards only the very best and brightest and forces the rest of the crowd to compete for a shrinking pool of money. For starters, the competition, even among people of color, is fierce.
Troubles for Bright Students
“For the kid who has a cumulative grade point average of 3.7, there is no longer any guarantee of getting the school you want,” says Kelly Wise, director of the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers. For those who are even a tad below the academic best and brightest, the competition is tougher than ever. Minority students also suffer from being serviced by programs earmarked for minorities that are now being cut back during the assault on affirmative action.
The recent cuts in federal funding hit minorities the hardest. “Only special money was available and that money has been cut back,” says Israel Tribble, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Education Fund, a quasi-public, non-profit group created by the Florida legislature to spur the production of African American Ph.D.s. Still, there is no way for Black students to pay for graduate and professional education the way they used to. “There’s no way that the private sector can pick up the slack,” says Allison Bernstein, director of the Ford Foundation’s education program.
She noted that Ford spends $5.5 million in fellowships for students. The available money ranges from as little as $15,000 to as much as $30,000.” In light of the federal cutbacks, however, she says, the foundation is considering increasing its fellowship spending for African Americans. “We think the problems (facing minority graduate and professional students) are long standing of underrepresentation. The fair thing to say is what can we do and at what scale,” she explains. The question is whether it will come in time.
Dr. Walter Allen, who has studied the dilemma of Black post-graduate education as a professor in the University of California at Los Angeles’ School of Social Work, says that the current condition reflects another wrinkle in what he feels is the effort to roll back the gains of Blacks in higher education. “I definitely see this as part of the assault on affirmative action,” he says.
He says that the impact of the cut back of graduate student money will speed the erosion of the number of Blacks with graduate degrees which, in turn, reduces the number of Blacks teaching Blacks, triggering a downward spiral for Black participation in higher education.
Wise is more concerned about the impact at the elementary and secondary school level. “A well-trained teacher is likely to emerge from graduate school $60,000 in debt and it will take 15 years of teaching to pay it off,” he says. That condition is not an encouraging sign at a time when highly-skilled teachers are needed to reverse the downward trend in the nation’s cities. “It’s all so infuriating when you realize that our urban high schools are going to pot,” Wise says.
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