AUSTIN, Texas—The National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) has recognized The University of Texas at Austin as an innovator and leader among American universities. The university was selected the Scholarship Provider of the Year (SPOY) recipient for 2004 on the basis of its “Adversity Index” at the NSPA annual conference recently in Montreal, Canada.
“We are incredibly interested in the adversity index that UT has developed,” said Amy Weinstein, executive director of the NSPA. “It seems that the University of Texas could become a strong leader in this area. There is a great interest among other scholarship providers.”
The Adversity Index is a carefully chosen set of statistical measures used to evaluate how difficult a potential student’s path to higher education has been. These measures include economic indicators of the student’s parents specifically and their high school in general, their parents’ educational level and the percentage of students from their high school that applied to The University of Texas at Austin in the past. The Adversity Index also compares students academically with peers from their own high school.
“I think it’s wonderful that The University of Texas at Austin has been recognized as a leader in finding ways to establish scholarship programs that search out to provide for a group that is overlooked and underserved,” said Dr. Lawrence Burt, director of the Office of Student Financial Services and associate vice president for student services.
Jean Danielson, director of Educational Research for SPOY award sponsor Fastweb, said the university offered a unique program.
“The University of Texas at Austin impressed me with the creation of the Adversity Index,” she said. “Cultural, racial, economic and social inequalities are exceptionally difficult issues to address and to address fairly. The Adversity Index jumped into the fray, adding a voice of methodical reason to complex issues.”
Burt created the Adversity Index. Prior to the 1996 ruling by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the legality of the use of race in admissions and financial aid, known as the Hopwood decision, Burt already was working to develop an alternate awarding methodology to replace the existing race-based scholarship programs at the university. His research demonstrated it was possible to select scholarship recipients based on high school academic achievement while using an Adversity Index. The first step was to translate the goals and values of the program from abstract concepts into concrete data definitions that then could be measured and evaluated. Working with technical specialists who provided the necessary data, Burt created databases and an awarding and scoring methodology. Data on Texas high schools and income data on applicants was pulled from the Texas Education Agency database and the College Board questionnaire, respectively. Students’ socioeconomic information, high school record and performance on test scores were taken from the university’s admissions database.
The result of this new awarding methodology, and continuing research, was the sequential creation of the President’s Achievement Scholarship Program—1997, the Longhorn Opportunity Scholarship—1999, the Keep Texans in Texas Scholarship—2002, the First Generation Scholarship—2003 and the University Outreach Scholarship Program—2003, together composing the Diversity Recruitment Programs. These five programs work together to creatively address the needs of students from economically and educationally challenging backgrounds. Far from being simple cash offerings to help students pay tuition, these programs together provide packages of assistance that range from educational funding, guaranteed housing, mentoring and social activities, to comprehensive academic assistance and free tutoring.
Joe Wilcox, scholarship coordinator at the Office of Student Financial Services, was the university’s representative at the NSPA conference in October and accepted the award on behalf of The University of Texas at Austin.
“With the State of Texas being at the forefront of the national demographic shift in the under-represented student population,” Wilcox said, “we must continue to lead by example, and devices such as the Adversity Index are key to ensuring that this changing population is given the attention that it demands. The University of Texas at Austin will continue to research, develop and employ new methods to address the growing disparity in our higher education student population until such a time that specialized programs like these will no longer be needed.”
“I believe that the Michigan Supreme Court case will cause other universities to look for tools such as the Adversity Index,” added Burt.
In the 2003 case Gratz et al v. Bollinger, the United States Supreme Court ruled that universities could take race into account on a limited basis in order to reach admissions decisions.
For more information contact: Tariq Ahmed Elseewi, Office of Student Financial Services, 512-475-6242, or Robert D. Meckel, 512-475-7847, Office of Public Affairs.