Arkansas Sued For Scholarship Bias

University Testing

Two African American high school valedictorians have sued Arkansas for bias in the state Governor's Distinguished Scholars program. To qualify, applicants need to post a 32 (out of 36) on the ACT, a 1410 (out of 1600) on the SAT, or be a National Merit Finalist, an honor determined primarily by Preliminary SAT rankings within the state.


Because of the exclusive use of test scores to select winners, only four out of 808 scholarships have gone to African Americans since 1997. Supposedly, the purpose of the program is to encourage the state's best students to continue college within Arkansas. The prestigious awards cover the full cost of undergraduate tuition.


Plaintiffs, represented by Little Rock attorney Rickey Hicks, are seeking class-action status for their federal court suit. They contend that scholarship selection criteria should include factors other than test scores, such as high school grades, course rigor, leadership ability and community service. "To only look at ACT [or SAT] scores makes the program extremely discriminatory," said Hicks.


Governor Mike Huckabee and the state Department of Higher Education are among the named defendants. Prior to the lawsuit, several educators such as University of Central Arkansas president Win Thompson had pressed unsuccessfully for an overhaul of the scholarship program's award criteria.