Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program on College Choice for High-Achieving, Low-Income African American Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program on College Choice for High-Achieving, Low-Income African American Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to identify factors that influenced the college choice process for high-achieving, low-income African American students, and to understand the effect of the Gates Millennium Scholarship on their college choice. Drawing from the Gates Millennium Scholar Tracking Database, a College Choice Survey, and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 231 high-achieving, low-income African American students who were selected as part of the 2012 cohort of Gates Millennium Scholars were surveyed. Data revealed the role of financial aid and college costs in the college choice process, and that being selected as a Gates Millennium Scholars enabled students to choose colleges that were more prestigious and institutions with more academic offerings. Implications research, policy, and practice are presented in the summary of the article.

Keywords: Gates Millennium Scholars, low-income students, high-achieving students, grant aid, college choice


For several decades, policymakers and the constituents they serve have been deeply concerned about the rising cost of American higher education. Students and their families have also been affected by the shift in less grant aid to more loans (Lillis, 2008). Although the Obama administration has enacted federal policies over the past few years that have increased federal student aid (Baum & Payea, 2012), the average annual percentage increase for tuition and fees across all institutional types over the last decade has been 5.2% after controlling for inflation (Baum & Ma, 2012). Given these increases have consistently outpaced the rate of inflation, the role of federal, state, institutional, and private grant aid has been increasingly important for students from low- and moderate-incomes to attend the college of their choice.

The role of grant aid in expanding college access and choice is particularly important for lowincome African American students given they disproportionately come from lower socioeconomic contexts and represent the racial/ethnic group that is most sensitive to the cost of higher education (Pema & Titus, 2005). Understanding how the timing, packaging, marketing, and actual distribution of grant aid affects different types of students is fundamentally important to expand college access and choice for all groups of students (Litten, 1982). However, much remains to be known about the role of grant aid in the college choice processes of different subgroups of collegegoing students. Granted that high-achieving, low-income African American students are substantially more likely to face socioeconomic challenges (Pema & Titus, 2005), but have more postsecondary options than their lower-performing peers (Hurtado, Inkelas, Briggs, & Rhee, 1997), a clearer understanding about how this subgroup of students choose their college of choice can help policymakers, college admissions officers, high school counselors, and community leaders understand the most effective methods to market, package, and distribute grant aid to this highly-qualified group of college-going students.


One of the largest and most widely distributed forms of private grant aid created to assist lowincome, high-achieving African Americans (and other students of color) is the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, chiefly administered by UNCF (United Negro College Fund). While higher education has shifted from grants to loans in recent decades, the GMS Program was established in 1999 with a 20-year $1.6 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce the financial constraints of low-income, high-achieving students who aspire to earn a postsecondary education. While the GMS Program offers leadership development, academic empowerment, and mentorship to its Scholars, perhaps the most appealing component of the GMS Program is its national scholarship, which provides up to 10 years of renewable grant aid that covers the full cost of attendance for 1,000 high-achieving, low-income students of color each year to enroll in their college of choice and earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees. …

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