The University of California announced this summer that it will withdraw funding from the National Merit Scholarship program.
This decision will only affect the scholarships that are directly funded by the UC. All other scholarships funded by corporate sponsors or the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will continue to be honored by the UC system.
National Merit Scholarships are awarded based on several criteria, including how well a student performs on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Students who score well on the test are invited to apply for the scholarship. Other factors, such as other standardized test scores, the student’s academic record, extracurricular activities and a personal essay, are considered for the final decision.
‘The National Merit Scholarship Program is a nationwide academic competition for high school students,’ said Elaine Detweiler, director of public information for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. ‘The awards are based on their academic and extracurricular achievements, by looking at their record and their potential for success.’
All scholarships awarded to current students, including those issued to students entering school this fall, will continue to be honored by the UC. However, UC funding for this program will cease for the incoming class of 2006.
The UC plans to redirect funds to other academic scholarships, such as the UC Regents’ Scholarship Program and the campus-based Chancellor’s Scholarship Programs.
About $735,000 was directed to National Merit Scholarships in the 2004-2005 school year, and approximately 600 out of 158,000 UC undergraduates received the award. About 8,200 National Merit Scholarships, ranging in value from $500 to $2,000 are awarded to students nationwide each year.
Critics of the National Merit Scholarship Program are upset that only students who receive high PSAT scores are qualified for the award.
These critics further contend that the program is biased towards uppermiddle class white and Asian students.
A study conducted in 2004 by Patrick Hayashi, former UC Berkeley associate vice chancellor of admission and enrollment and former College Board trustee, concluded that this supposition was correct.
Since then, the program has lost momentum within the UC system, finally culminating in the decision to pull funding from the program completely.
The decision to discontinue funding for the scholarship came after a recommendation was made by the Academic Council, the executive body of the UC faculty. Chancellors decided that the scholarship was indeed inconsistent with their aims and made the decision to redirect funding to other merit-based awards.
The National Merit Scholarship Funding Corporation maintains that it is a fair program that is synonymous with academic excellence, although some students disagree.
‘[The scholarship] filters out all of the low-income students because only those in higher tax income brackets can afford to send their child to PSAT classes,’ said Natasha Chokhani, a fourth-year international studies major. ‘The selection process also doesn’t take into account the high school GPA of the student, and I think that the UC is completely justified in withdrawing funding.’