New Grants Labeled Exclusive

    Two new grants targeted at low-income math and science majors will not reach all UCSD students who need them, according to UCSD’s Director of Financial Aid Vincent De Anda.

    Created by Congress in a relatively short six months, the Academic Competitiveness Grant and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant will allocate $790 million in aid to up to 600,000 modest-income college students all over the nation for the 2006-07 academic year. But many college officials, including De Anda, argue that the two programs have severely flawed rules, possibly hindering the grants beyond implementation.

    The ACG and S.M.A.R.T. programs, proposed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), were developed in order to keep the United States up with international competition in the technological field.

    The two programs “will also help America’s research universities retain their global preeminence,” Frist stated in a press release. “We need to do everything we can to encourage our best and brightest to enter key scientific fields.”

    First-year college students can receive up to $750 from ACG, while second-year students are eligible for a maximum of $1,300; S.M.A.R.T. grants offer up to $4,000 to low-income juniors and seniors.

    In 2005-06, the federal government distributed $19.4 million in Pell Grants to 6,419 UCSD undergraduates. Of these numbers, UCSD received $3.4 million for 1,324 ACG and 594 S.M.A.R.T. grant recipients, De Anda said.

    Low-income UCSD students who qualify for the Pell Grant program — in which eligibility is determined solely by financial need — are not necessarily eligible for the merit-based ACG and S.M.A.R.T. grants. Only those who are full-time college students, U.S. citizens and maintain a 3.0 GPA during all four years meet the criteria for receiving the two grants. In addition, the grants only support fields of mathematics, science, technology, engineering and critical foreign language majors at four-year institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s eligibility requirements.

    However, the stringent requirements have led to complaints from many college officials.

    “This exclusion lacks any statutory foundation, and will lead to the differential treatment of students attending the same school and having identical need profiles,” American Council on Education President David Ward stated in a press release. “[It] creates a disturbing precedent to have the [education] department overstep statutory authority to effectively compel institutions to participate in the ACG and S.M.A.R.T. grant programs.”

    The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association for College Admission Counseling also wrote a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Education expressing dissatisfaction with the grant requirements.

    De Anda echoed some of the concerns about the new programs.

    “If you’re going to do it and target money toward certain groups, all right, it’s fine,” De Anda said. “Target certain majors — I think that’s okay — but make everybody eligible for it. A lot of students who are engineers and scientists are foreign students, and they might be the best choices for [the] sciences and engineering.”

    According to the Department of Education, students must have completed a “rigorous” secondary school program in order to meet eligibility for the ACG and S.M.A.R.T. grant — but De Anda stated his apprehension over the ambiguous interpretation of what qualifies as “rigorous.”

    Frist stated that the criticism from college officials has no validity.

    “I see no reason to apologize for creating a program targeted toward the very type of bright, motivated students nearly all colleges seek to recruit,” Frist said. “I’m shocked that some of S.M.A.R.T. grants’ critics appear to believe that low-income students can’t earn good grades. … The program also limits itself to full-time students because they pay the most tuition and have the greatest financial need.”

    De Anda is concerned about the federal government’s ability to sustain the ACG and S.M.A.R.T. grants in the future, but is relieved to receive any extra funding regardless of the controversy behind it.

    “I’m glad to have the money,” De Anda said. “Any kind of money is good and it’s helped our students. It’s allowed me to take self-help money — loans, work study, for example — which I’m really low on this year. Every dollar I get is less loan work to be done by students.”

    Readers can contact Candice Wu at [email protected].

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