Wisconsin officials and the U.S. Department of Civil Rights recently decided to open the Minority Precollege Scholarship Program, which began in 1985, after accusations of discrimination, as the program was formerly open only to minority students.
According to the Wisconsin Department for Public Instruction website, the scholarship program provides funds for students in grades six through 12 who attend precollege courses at campuses around the state. The program covers the cost of the course, books, supplies, room and board.
The program will now be known as the DPI Precollege Scholarship Program and admissions will no longer be tied to race.
Wisconsin lawyers interpreted last year’s Michigan rulings as barring all race-exclusive higher education initiatives and chose to come to an agreement with the federal government rather than challenge the discrimination charge, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Jim Donovan, the communications officer for the DPI, said the federal government approached the DPI and questioned whether race should be used as a determinant for the scholarship program.
“We were forced; there was not an option for us,” he said. “The state superintendent [Elizabeth Burmaster] of the DPI has made a commitment to closing the achievement gap that exists between students of color and economically disadvantaged students.”
The program has been converted instead to cater to students in lower socio-economic situations. However, Donovan pointed out the make-up of the program will most likely not change.
“We know there is an achievement gap that exists between students of color and economically disadvantaged students,” he said. “We’re actively working to close that achievement gap, and one of the tools we’ve had is this scholarship program.”
Donovan said closing this gap is a major mission of the DPI.
“Basically in everything we do at the Department of Public Instruction in one shape, way or form is addressed toward closing the achievement gap. In fact, Superintendent Burmaster came in the office and made that change,” he said.
Donovan also said the DPI is aware teachers’ quality and knowledge are “the most important variables to a student’s success.”
The federal government’s involvement leaves some UW students divided, though.
UW sophomore Matt VanOosten said universities should be helping minorities but should be aware of the risks of reverse discrimination. A socio-economic-based plan may be better, he said.
“Just focusing on socio-economic standards is good because it doesn’t divide, it unites,” he said. “It makes it so anyone is eligible. At the same time, you’re not throwing the race card in there, which can make problems.”
UW sophomore Annie Honrath agreed reverse discrimination is a delicate situation.
“I think it’s really important for those in financial need, but we have to help minorities as well,” she said.
However, Honrath thought the government should not be extending an umbrella over all states over minority scholarships and reverse discrimination.
“It’s a matter for each state and each campus,” she said. “Not every campus should be emphasizing diversity, but that also doesn’t mean you should stop promoting a diverse campus.”