UNCF, the nation’s largest minority scholarship organization, recently announced a $25 million grant from longtime supporters Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation. The grant will support nearly 3,000 merit-based scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students and offer $4 million in financial relief for the 37 UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that were affected by the Parent PLUS loan crisis.
It’s important to note that for over 70 years, UNCF has welcomed all donors. Our only litmus test has been: Do you share a deep commitment to our mission — a mission designed to create better futures for African Americans by helping students realize their dream of a college education?
For those of us at UNCF who devote all our time to helping young African Americans realize their dreams of a college education, we are grateful for this grant as it represents a major opportunity to support our students through college and prepare them for careers and leadership after they graduate.
As the head of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, my focus has always been on understanding what it takes, financially and academically, for our students to succeed in and after college. Our research has identified critical findings about the impact of UNCF scholarships on the lives of students. As our most recent major grantor, the Koch partnership is designed to maximize these findings.
It’s important to understand who our students are and why scholarships are so important to them. Their need for assistance is 29 percent greater than other African-American college students – the racial group which is already the highest recipients of Pell Grants. At the same time, our students demonstrate enormous persistence, despite these lack of resources. Almost all first-year UNCF scholarship recipients -- 94 percent -- return for their sophomore year. 70 percent graduate within six years -- far exceeding the national average for all students.
Remarkably, a $5,000 scholarship awarded to an African-American freshman increases his or her likelihood of graduating by over seven percentage points. Looking at the big picture, an across-the-board rise in graduation rates of seven percentage points would graduate 16,000 more African Americans every year, as evidenced in our recent report: "Building Better Futures: The Value of a UNCF Investment."
The UNCF/Koch Scholars Program was created with this research in mind and includes 1,400 annual awards of $5,000 for undergraduate students. In addition, the activities of the program, focused on innovation and entrepreneurialism, are designed to meet the expressed desires of our students. Twenty-two percent of all our students major in business. Many of them tell us they are interested in starting their own businesses. Our students are hungry for opportunities to succeed in their communities, and many will start their own enterprises.
The UNCF/Koch partnership also provides critical support to our HBCUs, which have been hard-hit by recent changes to the Parent PLUS loan program. HBCUs – already a best buy in higher education, with lower tuitions than comparable four-year private colleges – play a vital role in providing educational opportunities for millions of minorities, many of whom currently come from low-income families and are first-generation college students. Though they represented only three percent of all four‐ and two‐year colleges and universities in 2012, HBCUs enrolled 10 percent of African American undergrads, produced 19 percent of the nation's African‐American bachelor’s degrees, and generated 27 percent of African-American bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields.
As we worked with Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation to develop this program, they also brought deep expertise from their longstanding commitment to higher education. The Charles Koch Foundation currently supports 340 programs at more than 250 colleges and universities across the country – both public and private schools, Ivy Leagues and HBCUs.
This year, UNCF awarded $100 million in scholarships to 12,000 deserving students, yet we still must turn down 9 out of every 10 qualified applicants. That is why we are asking all Americans to join in supporting UNCF and young African Americans who want a better future for themselves and their communities. These students deserve our support and we hope more Americans – of all political stripes and views -- will step up to meet this great need.
Brian K. Bridges is the executive director of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which has produced considerable research on the value proposition of HBCUs and African American parent perceptions of education reform. Forthcoming reports investigate HBCU graduation rates and UNCF HBCU costs. For links to their reports please visit www.uncf.org/fdpri.
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