Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

If Top of the Class Means Upper Middle Class…

December 14th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

… then who benefits when HBCUs use their scholarship dollars to lure top Black SAT scorers to their campuses.

Consider, for example, the Lewis and Elizabeth Dowdy Scholars program at North Carolina A&T. Spearheaded by A&T chancellor Stanley F. Battle,  this program, aimed at drawing a greater proportion of Black academic stars, raises some interesting and important questions  about the most effective and ethical use of scholarship funds.

In an effort to replicate the success of Florida A&M University (FAMU), which made headlines back in 1997 years ago for 73 of the nation’s highest scoring Black SAT takers to its Tallahassee campus. Much attention was lavished on FAMU’s recruitment strategy, which combined individualized attention (often from upper-level administrators) with generous scholarship offers.

Though FAMU has fallen on difficult times of late, its continued success in enrolling and graduating high-achieving Black students has not gone unnoticed by its fellow HBCUs. North Carolina A&T’s Dowdy Scholarships are intended to bring elements of its Florida rivals’ recruitment strategy to its own admissions process.

Here is a brief summary of the Dowdy Scholarships award classifications:

  • Students with a GPA of 3.75 and higher, combined with an SAT score of at least 1200 may earn 100% tuition scholarship.
  • Students with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.749, combined with an SAT score between 1100 and 1200 may earn a 75% tuition scholarship.
  • Students with a GPA between 3.25 and 3.49, combined with an SAT score between 1000 and 1099, may earn a 50% scholarship.


According to, the Dowdy Scholarships are backed by a $1.6 million dollar fund.

Here’s the question: Who wins and who loses when a historically Black institution like North Carolina A&T channels a generous gift like the Dowdy funds into merit-based, rather than need-based, financial aid?

In considering this question, think about these facts:

  • Higher SAT scores are linked to economic privilege. Across ethnicities, higher scores on this and other standardized tests are associated with greater family income.
  • Based on the relatively affluent Black student populations at selective institutions that attract enroll many of the highest Black SAT scorers, it appears that there is heavy overlap between strong standardized test performance, high grades in honors and AP academic tracks, and economic privilege. This is confirmed in a recent report in the JBHE. According to the repoty, “A new study from researchers at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania finds that large numbers of black students at the nation’s most selective colleges and universities are either financially well off or have parents who were born in foreign nations.
  • A recent Ball State study (2006) found that, “[t]here was a greater achievement gap in SAT scores based on family income levels and parents’ education levels than racially between blacks and whites. The achievement gap based on high school GPA was similar across these factors.” Thus education appears to be a stronger determinant of SAT performance than race or ethnicity.
  • Greater parental education levels are associated with higher individual and household income. In 2003, for example, the average income of a bachelor’s degree holder was $66, 728, while the average income of a high school graduate with no college degree was $36, 835.

Based on the correlation between high SAT scores, high parental education levels, and higher household income, the Dowdy Scholarships’ heavy reliance on SAT scores represents a troubling turn for A&T, in which scholarship funds that might otherwise be used to alleviate the student debt burden of those undergraduates from the most economically marginalized backgrounds will instead be distributed to students who, based on prevailing trends, are likely to be among the most economically secure.

In some ways, I suppose that the Dowdy Scholarships represent a positive move toward equality. If majority white universities can used their funds to “buy” academically talented students, then so can HBCUs. Still, I would like to think that since HBCUs were originally founded on the moral high ground (embracing race blind admissions while their white counterparts remained exclusive), that their strategies for recruitment would continue to stand that ground.

Lincoln University’s new science building represents a more positive approach to the recruitment of the highest achieving Black students. Improvements to facilities (academic and residential), the hiring of high-profile faculty members, the expansion of library collections, and careful attention to groundskeeping benefit all students, and attract that target population of high Black SAT scorers.

HBCU administrators would do well to remember that some of the most successful recruiters of Black high SAT scorers offer only need-based financial aid. Yes, I am aware that A&T, FAMU, and similar institutions cannot depend on name recognition to the degree that Yale or Princeton or Stanford can; still, these schools draw students based on the association of their names with high academic achievement, state-of-the-art facilities, and cutting-edge research.

Without the name recognition of the Ivy League, Stanford, or Berkeley, HBCUs have to be a little more creative in conveying to prospective students that high-quality and cutting eduge intellectual work takes place and is supported on their campuses. But this is not an impossible task. If the standards are high, the students will come. Witness the successes of Xavier University and, especially, of Spelman College, the most selective of all HBCUs, and one of the most selective institutions in the U.S.

Posted by Ajuan Mance 

Posted in Achivement Gap, African American Students, Black Colleges, Current Events, Florida A&M University, HBCUs, Higher Education, income gap, Ivy League, Lincoln University, North Carolina A&T, SAT, Scholarships, Spelman College

One Response

  1. ba

    I dont agree with your comments. I think that is you are academically talented and you score high SAT scores then you should be rewarded regardless of your parents background. There are millions of dollars out there for student through the UNCF, who only need a 2.5 to qualify. Granted my daughter would qualify for this scholarship and my husband and I are college educated. However, based on the fasa, we could finance 32,000 of her education, which is not true. Our household income does exceed 100,000 a year but that has ony happened in the last 2 years and we do have 2 other children.
    We dont have 35,000 lying around and we do not live a lavish lifstyle. Most of the income goes to taxes. This is something people dont understand. This scholarship will be a great help to us because we will not have to take out a plus loan and start paying it back in 60 days (that a monthy bill).