UC to redirect some National Merit Scholarship funding

Six UC campuses that currently provide funding for National Merit Scholarships, including UC Davis, will redirect that funding to other merit-based scholarships beginning with the fall 2006 entering class.

The decision, announced July 13, only affects National Merit Scholarships funded directly by the university; scholarships funded by the National Merit Scholarship Corp. or by corporate sponsors will not be affected. In addition, UC will continue to honor all National Merit Scholarships awarded to date, including those awarded to students entering the university in fall 2005.

In 2004-05, approximately 600 of UC's 158,000 undergraduates received National Merit Scholarships funded by the university, totaling approximately $735,000.

The decision was reached collectively by the chancellors of the UC campuses following a recommendation by the Academic Council, the executive body of UC faculty members. The chancellors determined that the university should continue to reward and recognize academic merit, but that the specific definition of merit employed by the National Merit Scholarship Program is inconsistent with UC's undergraduate admissions policies.

In particular, the chancellors agreed with the Academic Council's concern that using the PSAT exam alone to eliminate the vast majority of test takers from National Merit Scholarship consideration is inconsistent with UC principles that standardized tests should be used in conjunction with other factors in measuring merit and that major decisions should not be made on the basis of small differences in test scores. In undergraduate admissions, UC uses a broad mix of indicators, including but not limited to test scores, to assess student achievement.

As a result, the six campuses currently using university resources to fund National Merit Scholarships will instead shift those resources to fund other merit-based scholarships, such as the UC Regents Scholarship Program and the campus-based Chancellor's Scholarship Programs.

In addition to UC Davis, the affected campuses are UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz. UC Berkeley, UC Merced, and UC Riverside already do not sponsor National Merit Scholarships.

"We honor and respect academic achievement, and we are very proud that many National Merit Scholars apply to UC and are successful here," said M.R.C. Greenwood, UC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "This is an issue of ensuring that when the university uses its own resources to fund merit-based scholarships, it does so in a manner that is consistent with our own policies and principles."

None of UC's public comparison institutions — the University of Virginia, University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, State University of New York at Buffalo — or private comparison institutions like Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Yale currently sponsors National Merit Scholarships.

Students who are National Merit Scholars will still be able to compete for approximately $62 million in UC scholarships currently awarded to 16,700 UC undergraduates.

In 2003-04, UC awarded a total of $11 million in Regents Scholarships to more than 2,100 students. In addition, 870 students received Chancellor's Scholarships in excess of $5.8 million. Recipients of these scholarships are selected based on merit, while the amount of funding they receive is based on financial need. In 2003-04, UC also awarded $187.5 million in grants based solely on financial need.

The issue of UC's sponsorship of National Merit Scholarships was first addressed by the UC Academic Senate's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, which expressed concerns about the program's definition of merit and the university's definition; about the lack of a study validating use of the PSAT for selecting meritorious students; and about the program appearing to have a negative impact on disadvantaged and underrepresented students.

For more details, see http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/reports/nmsp.efm.background.pdf.

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, abagronis@ucdavis.edu

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