The U.S. Department of Education recently cut $10 million from the nationwide McNair Scholars Program, a $46.2 million federal TRIO program intended to help low-income, first-generation undergraduates and minorities prepare for graduate school and the ultimate pursuit of a Ph.D.
At the end of September, one-third of the 201 participating schools will be defunded as a result of the decision.
In Pennsylvania, there are only four schools that offered the program. While Penn State’s funds will remain intact, the program will be cut from Temple, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania.
“In many ways Temple is the perfect location to have a program like this,” Peter Jones, senior vice provost for undergraduate studies, said. “Any program that is targeted in getting first generation minority students into a Ph.D. is consistent to what we as a university try to do and the type of students we have coming to Temple.”
Temple has benefited from the program for 20 years, producing 22 Ph.D. recipients so far. The grant was renewed every five years, offering 12 to 14 students entry into the program every year.
Students were required to complete a research project during their first year and a teaching fellowship or an additional research project during the second. In addition, students participated in two intensive summer research programs and received benefits such as yearly stipends, academic support, mentorship and assistance with graduate school applications and selection.
“I had the wonderful opportunities to peer teach and conduct research. I use these experiences I had to work at Brandeis [University] today, and I will use them for the rest of my life,” said anthropology graduate student Nicole Welk.
Dana Dawson, the program’s director at Temple, said that about 60 percent of Temple McNair Scholars go into graduate school, many of them in pursuit of a Ph.D.
“Many of the students in the target population would not have gone into graduate school at all without the encouragement of the program,” Dawson said.
The last cohort started the program in January 2012. So far, these eight students have completed only half of the program.
“This program was more than just good financial assistance in paying for these events and courses,” Mia Reed, a senior kinesiology major, said. “It gave us the tools and guidance we need to get admitted into our graduate programs of choice and a glimpse of graduate school work.”
“The good news is that we have other programs at Temple for which these students can apply,” Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Emily Moerer said. “The type of experiences that these McNair Scholars were having are programs that already exist in the university.”
However, one of the program’s components that Jones said students will profoundly miss is the cohort. Students entered the program as a unit, worked and attended conferences together, and critiqued each other’s work. Jones said that such a feature is hard to replicate in other university-funded programs.
“I am so happy to have so many new like-minded people in my network who want to make an impact in academia,” Reed said. “When [Dawson] formally announced the news, she could have never seen a sadder group.”
Because TRIO programs are flat funded, the $10 million cut made to the McNair Scholars Program will be put toward the Math/Science Upward Bound Programs, which focuses on preparing high school students for careers in math and science.
“What is happening in funding at the federal level is that more funds are being targeted toward the [science, technology, education and math] disciplines and away from the social sciences and the humanities in general,” Moerer said.
Moerer said there are other select grant-funded programs at Temple that offer a similar experience to that of McNair, but they are focused on the STEM fields, like the Minority Access to Research Centers program. Yet, McNair was the only program that supported students in social sciences and humanities.
“The solution we would’ve liked to see was for the Department of Education to put $10 more million dollars into the TRIO programs rather than take it from McNair,” Dawson said. “What it reflects is underfunding at the federal level for these kind of initiatives.”
Laura Ordonez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.