The Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship Program
1993 Annual Report
Henry N. Drewry
The Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Program is the centerpiece of the Foundation's efforts to include members of minority groups as full and equal participants in higher education. The Program has both immediate and longer-term objectives.
The principal short-term objective is to increase the number of highly qualified candidates for PhDs in core fields within the arts and sciences who come from minority groups that are seriously underrepresented in these fields (African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans).
The longer-term objective is to increase the diversity of faculties at colleges and universities throughout the country in order to bring a wider range of experiences and perspectives to teaching and scholarly discussion. By providing increased opportunities for all students to work with minority professionals, diversity serves the related goals of structuring a campus environment more conducive to improved racial and ethnic relations and of providing role models for all youth.
The Pipeline Problem
The objectives of the MMUF Program are highly consequential given the exceedingly small numbers of minority students currently earning doctorates in the arts and sciences and the state of race relations in academia. Frequently, the number of "Minority PhDs" is presented as a single figure and not disaggregated by individual groups. The inclusion of certain Asian-American groups under this broad banner can give the appearance of a successful, steady rise in minority representation in higher education when, in fact, other minority groups are seriously underrepresented.
In recent years, for example, African-Americans constituted over 13 percent of the relevant college-age population but earned less than four percent of all PhDs. Similarly, Hispanics constituted over seven percent of the relevant population but earned only about three percent of all PhDs. By contrast, Asian-Americans constituted less than two percent of the relevant population but earned over five percent of all PhDs. White Americans constituted 78 percent of the population group but earned 88 percent of all PhDs (Note 1).
Detailed data on doctorates in individual fields of study, classified by racial/ethnic group (this time using absolute numbers) are even more striking. In 1992 only four African-Americans earned doctorates in mathematics; seven earned doctorates in physics or astronomy, 18 in English and American literature, and 25 in history. The absolute numbers for Hispanics are not appreciably better. Moreover, although the number of doctorates awarded to Hispanics has increased in recent years, the number of doctorates awarded to African-Americans has declined. In fact, 41 fewer doctorates were awarded to African-Americans in 1992 than in 1982.
College presidents frequently cite this general decline in the numbers of minority students earning doctorates in the arts and sciences as the single greatest obstacle to their efforts to recruit more diverse faculties. To cite just one example, in his report for the years 1991-93, Harvard's president, Neil Rudenstine, notes that there are 3,000 US colleges and universities that compete for new faculty and that Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences alone makes about 20 tenured appointments a year. "We would need to `beat the averages' considerably just to make tenured appointments of one individual from each of the identified [minority] groups in a given year," he writes. Rudenstine continues, "The outlook is further complicated by the fact that many of the PhDs tend to be clustered in a limited number of fields." Therefore, Rudenstine explains, "The distribution among fields--and not just the aggregate number of PhDs awarded--is such a critical factor in assessing the overall outlook."
Several causes are often cited to explain the dearth of minority students enrolling in doctoral programs in the arts and sciences. Most basic is the small number of minority students at the earlier stages of the education pipeline: the underrepresented minority groups start out behind, in that significantly smaller percentages of them go to college and earn BAs--in part because of attrition at earlier stages in the educational process. The shares of all BAs earned by both African-Americans and Hispanics are less than half their corresponding shares of the college-age population. Statistics such as these justify major efforts to address the underlying problems that have affected minority groups at all levels of educational attainment. While the Foundation has made some grants with these objectives in mind, other funders have concentrated their resources much more heavily on precollegiate education. Accordingly, our focus, especially in recent years, has been on students who attend college.
At the college level, many of the most talented minority undergraduates, who come disproportionately from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have opted for careers in business, law, or medicine. These professions offer better income prospects and also are seen by many as offering clearer opportunities for upward mobility. Moreover, minority students find few role models on arts and science faculties, and they are also less likely to have grown up knowing academicians as members of their families or communities.
As we considered how best to build a program that would encourage talented minority undergraduates to enter graduate programs in the arts and sciences, we tried to think comprehensively about the factors that influence an undergraduate's decision to attend graduate school. It seemed clear to us, from the start, that we would need to find ways to interest talented undergraduates in academic careers well before graduation--in their sophomore or junior years, when they still had decisions to make concerning programs of study and summer work opportunities. We also knew that, to be effective, we would need the active support of undergraduate institutions and, especially, of key faculty members. Our starting assumption was that able undergraduates from minority groups would be successful in competing for admission and financial aid from leading graduate programs once they were in the pool of candidates for doctoral programs. Our objective was to increase the depth and quality of this pool.
The program that evolved has features that pertain to both the undergraduate institutions and the students themselves. We begin this description of the program by identifying the elements directed at the students; we then discuss the key roles played by the undergraduate institutions.
Students selected as Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellows are entitled to receive four basic forms of support:
Continuing attention and advice from a carefully chosen faculty mentor as well as the program's coordinator. Many institutions have law school advisors and medical school advisors, but most institutions do not have graduate school advisors, because they assume that graduate school advising is done by all faculty members and available to all students. This assumption, unfortunately, does not always hold true.
Modest term-time compensation (approximately $1,500 per year) for assignments related to the academic interests of the students, with the understanding that such academic assignments will replace financial aid work assignments. (We did not offer larger term-time stipends because we did not want to seem to be bribing students to participate in the program; also, we were aware of the importance many of the participating institutions attach to adhering strictly to need-based standards of financial aid.) Fellows engage in a variety of projects under the supervision of a faculty mentor. For example, in her senior year at Dartmouth College, Jodi Archambault wrote: "I have completed the project entitled `Political Processes in Medicine Root District: Mobilization through Lakota Tradition' which I was able to research last summer and this academic year through the Mellon Fellowship I received." She then explained how she was helped in formulating her questions and shaping her research design by Professors Colin Calloway and Lynn Mathers. Professor Mathers reported, "Jodi...examined two case studies of recent conflict in the district and applied her theory of political, economic and cultural forces to explain the events that occurred." Jodi proudly concluded her statement: "I basically did much of the work independently."
The opportunity to participate in summer research programs with similar objectives, carrying stipends of $3,000. Whereas the term-time projects typically involve library or laboratory research on campus, the summer activities may occur away from campus. For example, Niambi Walker, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis who is majoring in Persian language and literature, will spend the summer of 1994 in Iran in order to improve her facility in Persian. While studying in Iran, Walker will live with the family of her mentor, Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz.
Fellows entering PhD programs in any of the core Mellon fields (Note 2) also are eligible for repayment of undergraduate student loans up to $10,000 as they pursue doctoral degrees. The idea behind this reimbursement policy is to allow students to contemplate academic careers without having to worry about how to repay undergraduate debt from the modest salaries that they may ultimately earn as academics. Such a concern is real. The MMUF fellows enrolled in the qualifying PhD programs have an average undergraduate debt burden of $9,261--which is 61 percent higher than the national average for all graduate students.
Although the MMUF Program has financial components, it cannot be viewed in the context of regular financial aid programs at either the undergraduate or graduate levels, since its emphasis is on the transition from undergraduate to graduate study. We chose to focus on this critical juncture because we believed that increasing the pool of applicants from underrepresented minority groups was more critical, at the moment, than increasing the funds available to minority students for graduate study. Fellowships of many kinds are available for strong applicants to PhD programs, and the success the first cohorts of MMUF fellows have had in securing support bears out our assumption. Needless to say, this is an assumption which we will continue to monitor as we track the progress of MMUF students through graduate study.
In order to increase the national pool of doctoral candidates from underrepresented groups, we decided to work with selected colleges and universities that attract significant numbers of talented minority students from all parts of the country. Institutions invited to participate in the Program were identified according to the size of their minority student populations and the percentage of their undergraduates who go on to graduate school. Efforts were also made to discern the extent to which each institution demonstrated a commitment to addressing underrepresentation and related issues on campus and, therefore, might be expected to bring the same energies to bear on behalf of the MMUF Program. In short, the goal has been to find strong institutions already working in this area, in hopes of sustaining and expanding their efforts.
Individual colleges and universities were invited to apply for grants. At present, 12 colleges and 12 universities receive direct grants. Of these institutions, 17 are located in the Northeast, four in the Midwest, one in Texas, and two in the West. Twenty are private institutions and four, all located in New York City, are public. Two are women's colleges.
An additional 19 institutions participate through a grant made to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). UNCF institutions were, until the 1960s, the leading undergraduate institutions from which African-American PhD recipients graduated. They still enroll a large share of African-American students who major in the humanities, and they are the home institutions of the largest number, by far, of minority students who study with faculties comprised predominantly of minority scholars. All the UNCF institutions are located in the Southeast and all are private. Included in the group of schools that have fellows are 16 coed institutions and three single-sex institutions.
The institutions chosen to participate in the MMUF Program receive and administer the fellowships. Thus, in contrast to portable fellowships, eligibility is limited to students attending participating colleges and universities. The major rationale for limiting eligibility in this way is to assure that proper attention is given to individual fellows and that communities of fellows can be established at each institution, or, in the case of the UNCF component, at a group of institutions. To this end, each of the colleges and universities participating directly in the program is guaranteed funding sufficient to cover participation of up to five fellows per year.
Thirty-nine coordinators direct the campus MMUF programs and serve as the principal liaisons with the Foundation. These coordinators have primary responsibility for the structure and integrity of local programs, for the selection of participants, and for the identification of mentors. The coordinator position is occupied by a single person at 11 institutions and shared by two or three people at the rest. Coordinators have a wide range of responsibilities in their institutions: just over half are faculty members, one-third have academic administration as their primary charge, and the remainder hold non-academic administrative positions.
The UNCF component, organized in a slightly different manner because the institutions are smaller and do not all have fellows each year, is centrally administered by William Scott, professor of history at Lehigh University and former dean of the undergraduate college at Clark Atlanta University. Scott, with the full cooperation of Lehigh University, devotes half his time to the UNCF program and is assisted by an advisory committee. In addition, within the last year, the six UNCF colleges which have the largest numbers of participants have assigned faculty members or administrators as coordinators.
It is clear that the leadership provided by the MMUF coordinators is the most critical determinant of the success of the campus programs. All efforts to assess why some institutions have fared better than others point to the quality of the coordinators. One aspect of good leadership is the identification of able mentors and the ability to secure their commitment to the program. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of many outstanding coordinators who has established an intra-institutional network which includes present fellows, senior and junior faculty members, and minority graduate students.
Another essential responsibility of the coordinators is the selection of students. The selection of qualified students is complicated by the fact that standard measures of achievement, such as SAT scores and GPAs, often fail to identify students who will perform excellently with the advice, counsel, and support provided by the MMUF Program. The recommendations of faculty members and the students' own motivation--two necessarily subjective factors--seem to be the key indicators of students' ability to take important entry steps toward graduate study. The selection of fellows is also confounded by the fact that the Program does not intend to redirect the career choices of undergraduates, only to assure that those students interested in academic life receive the full support necessary to achieve what is, for all doctoral candidates, a very challenging goal.
The final aspect of a coordinator's role is the development of programs that bring campus fellows together as a group to provide support, reinforcement, and opportunities for intellectual exchange. Fellows who participate in activities that foster a sense of group identity are more likely to enter PhD programs than their colleagues in other MMUF programs. Indeed, the eight institutions that have sent the highest fractions of their graduates on to study in qualifying doctoral programs all engage in activities aimed at establishing a fellowship community among participants. An excellent example of the success of this approach is New York's Queens College which has sent over 60 percent of its MMUF graduates to PhD programs, the highest percentage among all participating institutions. Professor Barbara Bowen and Dean Elaine Maimon, the two coordinators at Queens, have gone to great lengths to build a supportive community which includes not only the fellowship recipients but also their immediate families, because they understand that the fellows need the support of everyone close to them if they are to complete their PhD studies successfully.
By the fall of 1993, five cohorts of students totaling 537 individuals had been admitted to the Program. Of these students, 262--almost all from the first three cohorts--had received bachelor's degrees. Of the remaining 241 students, all but 24 are still enrolled as undergraduates and remain in the Program. In other words, less than five percent of the participants have dropped out prior to receiving their BAs.
Of those students who have received BAs, we find that, thus far, 34 percent have entered PhD programs in the designated Mellon fields within the arts and sciences. Another five percent are pursuing PhDs in other arts and sciences fields; eight percent have enrolled in professional schools; and ten percent are in master's programs in non-professional fields.
These percentages will change. Significant numbers of students elect to take time off--and are counseled to do so--between completion of their undergraduate degrees and enrollment in graduate school. Others, now in master's programs, may move into PhD programs in the future. Conversely, some who have started in PhD programs may shift to other types of graduate study or leave graduate school altogether. Because of the complex flow of students into and out of programs, it will take quite some time before we can know with confidence how many MMUF participants have elected to pursue PhDs in the core fields we have identified--and then how many complete PhDs. The road is a long one, marked by detours and routes to other vocations.
At this time, 77 of the 118 BAs not now in graduate school plan to enroll in a PhD program in a Mellon field in the future, and another 18 say that they intend to pursue doctorates in other fields or some other type of graduate study. If all of these fellows eventually enroll in graduate programs, 92 percent of the first cohorts of MMUF students to earn their BAs will have embarked on graduate studies, with 62 percent in the targeted Mellon fields. This is an upper bound. If half of these fellows follow through with their present plans (a more realistic assumption), the percentage going to graduate school would be 60 percent, and the percentage entering doctoral programs in Mellon fields would be 48 percent.
It is hard to know what criteria to use in deciding how to define "success." All we can say at this juncture is that these percentages seem to be very encouraging, especially given the difficult job market that confronts aspiring academics these days. We also believe that the Program has value for those students who elect to pursue other educational and vocational goals. A number of them will have benefited, we hope, from the research programs which they undertook as undergraduates and from their more intensive contacts with faculty members. It is undoubtedly healthy that some students made other choices (they are hardly to be regarded as "failures"), and we certainly never expected that all participants would pursue doctoral study.
Even though it is much too early to judge the long-term effects of the program, it is instructive to review briefly the fields of study chosen by the 92 known entrants to PhD programs in the targeted fields. English (with 25 students), history (14), mathematics (10), and anthropology (7) are the leading fields of graduate study for the fellows for whom we have reliable information. These fields are followed by comparative literature and Romance languages (with 6 each), physics (4), classics (4), and African-American studies (3). Given the exceedingly small numbers of minority students now earning PhDs in these fields, if reasonable numbers of these MMUF Program participants go on to earn their degrees, then the Program will have had a very substantial impact on minority representation among faculty in these disciplines. Some MMUF PhD students will undoubtedly drop out or transfer to other fields before completing their doctoral degrees, yet to date only one PhD student in the Program has left graduate school. This statistic is especially encouraging when one considers the high levels of attrition that characterize so many PhD programs.
From the start of the MMUF Program, the Foundation committed itself to assembling comprehensive information about both the individual and institutional participants, and in time it will be possible to report the results of a number of statistical studies which should provide new insights into the factors affecting decisions by minority students to pursue PhDs in various fields. For example, it will be possible to examine relationships to test scores and grades, differences in results obtained by students at colleges (and at different types of colleges) versus students at universities, and the influence of family background and gender. Some provisional findings are available now, but the cell sizes are still too small to allow us to generalize with confidence.
Profiles of Fellows
Although statistics are important in assessing the results achieved by the MMUF Program, as important, and in some ways more compelling, are stories of the individual fellows. The following are brief profiles of four successful fellowship recipients, three of whom are in graduate school and one of whom will begin graduate studies as a Marshall Scholar in the fall of 1994.
Travis Jackson -- Travis spent his pre-college years attending both public and private school in Tennessee. He performed well on the Scholastic Aptitude and several Advanced Placement exams. However, his erratic academic record during his first four terms as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania seemed inconsistent with his success on standardized tests. Good grades in the humanities were offset by poorer grades in mathematics and science.
Selected as a Mellon Fellow in the spring of 1990, Travis focused more on courses in the humanities during his junior and senior years. He also took part in the campus theater arts program, coordinated a jazz festival, and won awards for poetry and leadership. He wrote his senior thesis on the extended works of Duke Ellington, addressing jazz scholar Gunther Schuller's assessment of the merits of those works. With his Mellon support, Travis was able to take advantage of the recently opened jazz collections at the Smithsonian.
Now in his third year in the ethnomusicology program at Columbia University, Travis is a recipient of a Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship and is working on several entries for the Encyclopedia of African-American History and Culture to be published by MacMillan.
Valerie Matthews Bickham -- Valerie attended public school in Mississippi. She identified business as her primary career interest when she entered a predominantly Black public university. After one semester, she transferred to Tougaloo College in Mississippi.
A Presidential Scholar, Valerie compiled a strong academic record. She entered the Mellon program in the fall of 1990, while serving as managing editor of the campus newspaper, and during her senior year made a presentation at the College Language Association conference in Tennessee. Valerie reported that the MMUF Program's greatest benefit to her was the UNCF/Mellon Summer Institute, which helped her develop research skills and choose a graduate program.
Valerie is now in the second year of a PhD program in literature and literary criticism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has served as graduate assistant for the UNCF/Mellon Summer Institute and reports that she has learned a great deal in her roles as advisor and instructor for current MMUF undergraduates.
Corey Olds -- Corey lived with his grandmother in northern Ohio from age 10. When he entered Oberlin, he identified his primary career interests as law and business. His freshman and sophomore course work in literature, mathematics, Latin, Greek, and philosophy produced an unimpressive GPA, but his abilities were seen as sufficiently promising that a professor recommended his admission to the MMUF Program in the fall of 1990.
One faculty member describes him as having "abilities that are most valuable in the professional study and teaching of literature." Corey pursued research at Howard University and subsequently prepared two articles for publication involving literary and historical aspects of his two-and-a-half year research on Juan Latino and Valaurez Spratlin. As Corey recalls: "Discussing the ins and outs of my research topic with [my mentor] provided me with great insight into the nature of research itself as well as the peculiarities of literature and the Humanities. My mentor helped to bring my mind to life."
Corey earned the Helping Hand Award for outstanding youth achievement from the Association for Better Community Development for founding a summer academic skills program for Black children in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. After graduating from Oberlin, he entered a PhD program in French at Stanford University with full financial support for four years.
Mariza Rosado -- Mariza Rosado entered the MMUF Program in the fall of 1993 as a senior at the University of Chicago. She is a native of Brooklyn, New York where she attended public schools. Mariza's performance on the SAT was not a good indicator of her ability. Her experiences as an undergraduate offer a much more compelling statement of her potential as a student and scholar. A professor of political science wrote that what he found most striking about Mariza's work is her ability to "grasp difficult analytical points and reduce them to clear and comprehensive language."
A classics major, she spent her junior year at the University of Bristol in England. In addition to the guidance that she received from her mentor at the University of Chicago, Mariza also developed close working relationships with two professors during her time in England and was able to join the Sepphoris excavation in Israel. Throughout her stay in England she maintained close contact with her mentor at Chicago. She describes him as "supportive not only in my project at Sepphoris but also in my preparation for graduate school. He has made suggestions of graduate programs in classics, has written recommendations for me, and has given me advice towards formulating a more defined area of intellectual inquiry which I might propose to pursue in my application to a graduate program in classics."
She was chosen to be one of 37 recipients of a Marshall Scholarship and will be studying classics at Oxford University in England.
While we regard the preliminary results and student profiles as both interesting and encouraging, we must reiterate the danger of making too much of too little data, especially when the ultimate success of the Program can only be determined after some years. The Foundation takes most seriously its obligation to maintain its current efforts to gather and evaluate information that bears on the Program's effectiveness. In particular, we will continue to track meticulously the progress of institutional programs and of individual participants. Special studies will also be conducted. For example, during the 1993-94 academic year we are exploring what is to be learned from the experiences of the participating institutions about the effectiveness of different approaches to the selection of fellows.
We also intend to give further thought to the question of how we can maintain contact with the MMUF fellows once they have earned their BAs and are no longer enrolled in the participating institutions. The fact that the Foundation will be financing the repayment of loans for those with undergraduate debt who do pursue doctoral programs in the designated Mellon fields ensures continuing contact in these cases. (One interesting feature of the Program is that it will automatically require larger amounts of funding from the Foundation for debt repayment the more successful it is.) Our objective, however, is to maintain contact with all of our fellows, including those who elected not to go on to graduate school and those who have enrolled in graduate programs but are not eligible for debt repayment.
One clear conclusion about the Program is that its comprehensive approach--which addresses undergraduates' needs for direct experience with sustained academic inquiry, for academic guidance and personal nurturing, and for a measure of freedom from worries over the financial consequences of having borrowed as undergraduates--offers sufficient promise to merit the Foundation's continuing commitment to it. As previously mentioned, if even a modest fraction of the participants complete doctoral studies, the program will have a considerable impact on the number of doctorates earned annually by minority students, and thus on the diversity of holders of PhDs, the diversity of faculties nationwide, and the educational environment in which students of all races study and learn.
Institutions Participating in MMUF Program
Bryn Mawr College
City College (NY)
Queens College (NY)
University of Chicago
University of Pennsylvania
University of Southern California
Washington University (Saint Louis)
Clark Atlanta University
Jarvis Christian College
Johnson C. Smith University
Morris Brown College
Saint Augustine's College
Saint Paul's College