The Campus McNair Scholars program is not renewing
The US Department of Education rejected UC Berkeley’s grant proposal for the McNair Scholars Program, resulting in the loss of more than $2.5 million in potential undergraduate research funding.
The McNair Scholars Program offers federal research grants to undergraduate institutions to amplify first-generation students, those receiving financial aid, and students from underrepresented groups in graduate programs, according to the McNair Scholars’ website. Ministry of Education. After 30 years as a recipient of major grants, the campus will close the program to current and future participants.
“The UC Berkeley McNair Scholars program was the only place where academics of color and low-income students could conduct research under the supervision of a faculty mentor,” said UC Berkeley director Juan Esteva Martínez. .
Martínez noted that the campus has historically been one of the largest recipients of McNair grants nationally, receiving $437,772 in federal funds each year with a 3% annual increase in funds.
The campus cannot reapply until the next five-year cycle opens in 2027. At that time, the campus will compete for half the amount of annual funding awarded in previous years, according to Martínez.
Martinez was “perplexed” by the decision given the campus’ continued involvement in the program. Since 1992, the campus has produced 900 McNair Fellows, including well-known researchers and professors across the country, Martínez added.
“I don’t see the reason behind the deduction of a university that has provided so many consistent results,” Martínez said. “UC Berkeley was one of the oldest programs in the country.”
In previous years, up to 30 first-generation and low-income students have received funding and faculty mentorship for independent research projects, which are customized to reflect their “lived experiences,” according to the website. of the campus program. The researchers have always been published in the Berkeley McNair Research Journal and presented at a national conference.
During federal evaluation of grant proposals, the campus routinely collected “priority experience” points for their long-term participation, Martínez said.
This year, however, the campus proposal received major point removals in the “goals” and “needs assessment” categories. UC Berkeley received zero points out of a possible nine for failing to define an institutional base with “achievable and ambitious” goals, according to Martínez.
“We have a program that has consistently achieved goals every year,” Martínez said.
He added that evaluators scored nine out of 16 points in the “establishing needs” section after the campus submitted national rather than institutional data, Martínez added.
According to Martínez, UC Berkeley received full points for all other eligible categories, putting them 4.5 points below the funding threshold and in a position unable to appeal the decision.
An unnamed source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, alleged the narrow points deduction was “suspicious” and called for a reassessment.
Now students and faculty grapple with the program’s future as last year’s cohort scholars prepare for graduate applications in the fall, according to graduate division dean Lisa García. Bedolla. Bedolla said staff at the McNair campus have been given extended contracts using funds from the campus graduate studies division to continue mentoring services for current scholars beyond the September 30 grant end date. .
“It seems like a shame,” Robert Hass, emeritus professor of English on campus, said in an email. “The McNair program has done a terrific job of giving undergraduates the best possible opportunities to take advantage of what a great research university has to offer.”
However, Bedolla added that the need for on-campus mentorship goes beyond what the McNair program could provide. She said underrepresentation in higher education begins with inequalities in K-12 education, which limit first-generation and low-income student populations in higher education. These students are less likely to benefit from research opportunities and guidance for higher education once they get to college, she added.
Bedolla said future campus efforts to improve graduate diversity include expanding summer research for relevant students to off-campus sites and creating the graduate school entrance program more ” robust” to serve 150 to 200 students for a longer period.
“While the non-renewal of the grant was disappointing news, we have pivoted to ensure that we are doing all we can to diversify the pool of Berkeley students choosing to go to graduate school,” Bedolla said in an email.
Contact Lily Button at [email protected]and follow her on Twitter at @lilybouton27.