UPH Scholars Research Paper: How are scholarships a matter of social justice?

Category: Academic | Writing
For my senior thesis project in high school, I wrote this research paper to explore if and how scholarships are a matter of social justice.


Did you know that, in 2003, the city of Detroit, among the nation’s 100 largest public school districts (by total enrollment size), is one of the districts with the lowest graduation rates, with a mere 42% compared to the state of Michigan, which has 77%? Just think; that is just the overall rates that reveal the graduation rates by race and gender within the race. Michigan graduates 57% of the enrolled African-American students, compared to 80% of Caucasian students. Within those numbers, 50% of the African-American graduates were male, and 65% were females, compared to the 77% of Caucasian males and 84% of Caucasian females that graduated.

What does that really say about Detroit? There is a big gap between every one of the percentages just mentioned. To me, it should be humiliating to be labeled as a citizen of one of the cities with the lowest graduation rates in the nation, but that should also make young people want to strive to be a part of those very few 42%. The rates may increase over time, and these few statistical percentages, along with others, are what I am going to use in this paper to show how scholarships are a matter of social justice.

Acknowledging the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark case of Brown et al. versus Board of Education et al., which ended “separate but equal” as a method for keeping separate children of different races in our schools (Bernstein 1963), it is appropriate and important to examine the events and progress made in the same time since this decision. To more sharply focus the lens, I will start by defining social justice.

What is social justice?

John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971) introduced the concept of social justice through the “social contract.” This idea involves the production of goods and services for the betterment of society as a whole. For instance, providing access to higher education for students who cannot afford it aligns with our “social contract” with higher education. Rawls’ work draws from philosophical ideas presented by Rousseau in the 1800s, which align with the French motto of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality, and fraternity) (Green 1).

Social justice aims to ensure fair and equitable treatment for individuals irrespective of their race, religion, gender, economic or educational status, sexual orientation, marital status, or any other factors. It involves the creation of a society that offers individuals and groups fair treatment, just distribution of benefits and disadvantages, and equal opportunities. Social justice has far-reaching implications and affects various aspects of daily life, including the federal state budget, global warming, taxes, healthcare, childcare, foreign aid, housing, low-wage workers, immigration, welfare, minimum-wage pay, race, sex, poverty, and education.

Article 26(2) of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes that education should promote the full development of human personality, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and support the United Nations’ peace activities. Unfortunately, this statement is only regularly practiced in some high schools in the United States. Furthermore, the United States still needs to sign this document, citing that it is working towards these goals. This lack of effectiveness in implementing these concepts can lead many citizens to perceive social justice as a myth.

Scholarships and Social Justice

The topic of financial aid and education has been a subject of concern in relation to social justice for many years. In the 1930s, prestigious American colleges and universities were exclusively available to wealthy White, Anglo-Saxon men, while students of Jewish descent, young women, and students of color were systematically excluded from such opportunities (Levine 1989). This, coupled with the national economic depression, resulted in few college students between 1930-1945 (Freeland 1989). However, significant changes were brought about with the conclusion of World War II. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the “GI Bill,” provided extensive funding, thereby resulting in a surge in the number and diversity of students seeking admission to American colleges and universities.

Subsequently, President Harry S. Truman appointed the Commission on Higher Education for Democracy, led by George Zook, president of the American Council on Education. They discovered that a student’s access to education was determined not by their abilities but by their family or community background and even the color of their skin or religion (Zook 1947).

It is worthwhile to note that scholarship funds are awarded less frequently to African-American students when compared to their Caucasian counterparts, particularly in low-performing school districts within our cities and states with mid-range statistical percentages. It is important to bear in mind that African-Americans possess less wealth than almost any other racial group in America (Keister, 2000). Some argue that African-Americans have fewer financial and social resources because they are less industrious and more likely to rely on government programs (Murray, 1984). However, research has suggested that African-Americans are less likely to engage in businesses that create wealth and thus depend on government programs (Murray, 1984).

In conclusion, social justice is a multifaceted issue. While African-Americans are a minority ethnicity, social justice plays a significant role in their lives, and Affirmative Action plays a pivotal role in addressing these issues.

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative Action is a policy that extends beyond simply ending discriminatory practices. The United States Civil Rights Commission defines it as any measure that considers factors such as race, national origin, sex, disability, and other criteria to provide opportunities to individuals who have been historically or actually denied those chances. The primary goal of Affirmative Action is to prevent future discrimination and promote diversity. 

Affirmative Action programs are implemented in various areas, such as school admissions, job hiring, and government and corporate contracts. These programs aim to support disadvantaged ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, and veterans. They give these groups a fair chance to compete in the job market and improve their socio-economic status. 

However, there have been several legal cases related to Affirmative Action, starting with the Green versus County School Board of New Kent County, Va., 391 U.S. 430 case in 1968, up until the most recent case in 2003 of Gratz versus Bollinger 537 U.S. 1044 on June 23. Robert Woodson’s arguments are quite compelling as he acknowledges the flaws in Affirmative Action policies and programs. He argues that women and minorities are not equally disadvantaged, even though they typically comprise a majority of the lower classes in American society. 

Opponents of Affirmative Action argue that it needs to be preserved as the playing field is not yet level. They claim that without Affirmative Action, disadvantaged groups would be at an even greater disadvantage in the job market. However, supporters argue that Affirmative Action should be reviewed and improved to ensure that it is fair and effective in promoting diversity and equal opportunities.

Affirmative Action & The Michigan Economy

From 1961 to 2006, Affirmative Action was implemented to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities in sectors such as employment, education, and business. These sectors were historically dominated by other groups, making it difficult for women and minorities to have equal opportunities. The policy aimed to provide historically disadvantaged groups with equal access to opportunities through measures such as preferential treatment based on skin color or gender in public contracting, employment, and education.

Currently, Michigan Proposal 2 prohibits preferential treatment based on skin color or gender in public contracting, employment, and education. While this policy has benefits, African-Americans face higher poverty, joblessness, and incarceration risks without Affirmative Action. The policy helped increase the number of scholarship recipients by requiring public colleges and universities to consider race and gender in their selection process and admissions policies. This ensured equal opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups, which was crucial in addressing their underrepresentation in various sectors.

While the Michigan Proposal 2 has its benefits, Affirmative Action played a crucial role in ensuring equal opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups. It aimed to address their underrepresentation in various sectors and provided measures to ensure equal access to opportunities.

Statistical Comparisons

Although strides have been made in the last 30 years toward achieving equal opportunities for women and minorities, there are still considerable challenges to overcome. Access to higher education is a crucial component of developing a well-educated and diverse workforce, which in turn enhances the prosperity and well-being of the nation as a whole. Affirmative Action policies, particularly in the realm of higher education admissions, have proven to be an effective tool in breaking down barriers and ensuring equal opportunities for all Americans to showcase their talents and abilities.

Orlando Patterson, a sociologist at Harvard University, has pointed to the remarkable progress that has been made in recent years by African-Americans, with as many as 35% of adult male workers now firmly situated within the middle class. However, it is important to note that Affirmative Action policies only apply to highly selective institutions, although some second and third-tier schools have now adopted this practice. Despite this, recent studies have shown that the odds of a black student being admitted to public institutions are still significantly lower than those of a white student with the same SAT and GPA.

These findings demonstrate the effectiveness of Affirmative Action policies and underscore the need to continue using or even increasing this practice in order to narrow the black-white gap and ensure equal opportunities for all. Only by providing access to higher education and eliminating discriminatory barriers can we truly achieve a level playing field for all Americans.


After careful consideration and decisive action, it is clear that achieving social justice, especially in education and scholarships, is a complex issue. Alarming statistics about graduation rates, persistent racial and gender disparities, and past prejudices remind us of the urgent need for social justice in education.

Comprehensive research shows that scholarships are crucial in promoting social justice and ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status, race, or gender. Scholarships provide financial aid and help remove barriers to education for those who face hindrances due to various factors.

In summary, social justice, scholarships, and Affirmative Action are interconnected elements that work to tackle inequalities, encourage diversity, and provide equal opportunities. By focusing on these core principles and re-evaluating and improving Affirmative Action policies, we can establish a fair and just society in which everyone has an equal chance of succeeding.

Annotated Bibliography

Bray, Llona. Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits. Berkeley: Nolo Inc., 2005.  

Burnett, Ken. The Zen of Fundraising. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006. 1-161.

This book mainly addresses how to strengthen and develop donor relationships with 89 timeless ideas. It is formatted as an outline with several steps to enhance relationships in order to gain funding and donations for a nonprofit organization

Cushman, Kathleen. First in the Family. Providence: Next Generation P, 2005. 

This book is an advice book about college from first-generation college students. The 13 student contributors in this book are all from various backgrounds, providing several different perspectives for the unsure of second guessing high school students. This book will be used to support my experiment and research on the rates of first-generation students to non-first-generation students going to college.

Deering, Kathryn R., ed. Cash and Credit Information for Teens. Detroit: Omnigraphics Inc., 2005. 1-376.

This book is also part of the Teen Finance Series. Being of a different stage in the series, it mainly includes facts about earnings, spending, and Borrowing Money, with topics such as budgeting, consumer rights, banks, paychecks, taxes, loans, credit cards, and more.

Deering, Kathryn R., ed. Savings and Investment Information for Teens. Detroit: Omnigraphics Inc., 2005. 1-333.

The book is one part of the Teen Finance Series. The main intention of this book is to educate teens with tips for a successful financial life. It includes facts about making money grow, with information about the economy, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, online investing, and so much more.

Heller, Donald E. “Summary Analysis of the Michigan Merit Scholarship Program.” (2005). Mar.-Apr. 2007 <http://www.fairtest.org/MI%20Data.html>. 

This article gave an in-depth overview of the Michigan Merit Scholarship Program which took the place of the MEAP Test. It is a test which is classified by levels which determines the students who qualify for a 2,000 scholarship.

Kantrowitz, Mark. FinAid Page LLC. Feb.-Mar. 2007 <http://www.finaid .org>. 

This site was very useful for several aspects of my project. I used several of the pages; Evaluating Scholarship Matching Services, Scholarship Fraud Prevention Act of 2000, Common Scholarship Scams, How to Protect Yourself from Scams, and How to Report Scholarship Scams.

Roth, Stephanie, and Mimi Ho. The Accidental Fundraiser. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005. 1-303.

This is a wonderful book. Although it was mainly intended for fundraising, it contributed to so many other aspects of my project. The authors of this book mainly intended this book to help their readers raise money for their specific causes with several different tips and strategies.

Sand, Michael A. How to Manage an Effective Nonprofit Organization. Ed. Christopher Carolei. Franklin Lakes: Career P Inc, 2005. 1-211. 

The author of this book learned everything that he knew about how to manage an effective nonprofit organization from serving as a staff member, board member, trainer, and consultant for several nonprofit organizations for over 40 years. He wrote this book to help meet the needs of nonprofit agency managers who need a source of information that gives them practical tips that they can refer to and implement in a timely manner.

Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Chicago: African American Images, 2000. 

The book gives its targeted general audience a sense of how, over the years, the Afro-American history has changed, and its effects. Carter G. Woodson, a well known historian, author, and educator wrote this book in 1933, 17 years before he died in April of 1950. I used this resource to help me state my case with more supporting details and information, on how scholarships are a matter of social justice.

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