A helping hand for minority students

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 

Grand Rapids Press

Proposal 2, the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative passed by
Michigan voters in 2006, has made it more difficult for non-white
students to get to -- and through -- public universities in the state. 

A new organization called the Imagine Fund can lessen that problem, by
legally providing scholarships to minority students with help from
private donors. The fund is a prototype of the sort of private-sector
response needed to help historically disadvantaged people get an
education, and a chance at a better life. A clear illustration of the
problem facing minorities can be found in enrollment figures for this
year's freshman class at Grand Valley State University. The number of
black, Asian, American Indian and Latino students coming into the school
dropped by 30 percent over last year's enrollment. These incoming
freshman are the first to feel the effects of Proposal 2, which banned
consideration of gender and race in public contracting, public
employment and public education. Enrollment numbers for other state
universities aren't yet available. 

In addition to ending affirmative action for purposes of admissions,
Proposal 2 did away with race- and gender-based scholarships that are
publicly funded. GVSU has such a fund, the Bert Price Awards
scholarships, that provided full rides for academically qualified
minority students. In 2006, $5.7 million from the fund was awarded to
825 students. Beginning this year, the scholarships must come to an end,
though current scholarship recipients will receive the money until they
complete their education. The money will be funneled into new
scholarships tied to where people live and their incomes, instead of


The decline in minority freshman enrollment at GVSU no doubt has many
causes, including fierce competition from other schools. However, the
new limits placed on minority scholarships has certainly fed the
drop-off, as students and their families struggle to pay fast-rising
college bills. The climbing college costs conspire against minorities in
particular, who as a group come from less financially-well off

The Imagine Fund was established last year to address the reality that
people of color will find it more difficult to get through college now
that schools are prohibited from offering them financial help based on
race. Set up as an independent non-profit, the fund can legally consider
race, gender and other factors in handing out awards. The organization
expects to begin offering scholarships in the 2009 school year. 

The group, which has thus far collected $225,000 in donations, is
patterned after the College Success Foundation in Washington state, a
response to an anti-affirmative action initiative passed there in 1998.
Since its founding in 2000, the College Success Foundation has granted
4,000 scholarships and has raised $300 million -- an indication of the
kind of success the Imagine Fund could have with the right leadership
and support. 

The support should come first of all from businesses and foundations
that favor additional help for minorities and other historically
disadvantaged groups. Many business groups fought Proposal 2, and lost. 

Not lost, however, is the opportunity to help young people succeed. The
law has put an end to some of those efforts in public institutions. That
makes it all the more imperative that private donors pick up the slack.