Fulbright Emphasizes Diversity Among Its Fellows

Beth McMurtrie, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 22, 2008

The Fulbright Program is one of the most successful fellowship programs around. About 1,500 students and 1,300 scholars from the United States and abroad are studying and working on Fulbrights this academic year.

Started in 1946, the international academic-exchange program offers grants that are awarded by binational Fulbright commissions and financed by the U.S. government and the government of each country in which the awards are available. This year the United States contributed nearly $221-million to the fellowships.

But the U.S. State Department, which oversees the program, has been concerned in recent years about the lack of diversity among American applicants. They have been, and still are, overwhelmingly white and from four-year institutions.

This year, for example, only seven of the nearly 760 American scholars come from community colleges, and only 10.6 percent of American students who received Fulbrights are black or Hispanic.

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One challenge, Mr. Farrell says, is that few minority students even bother to apply for Fulbrights. So the department has tried to improve its outreach, with some success: The number of black and Hispanic students on Fulbrights rose from 120 last year to 159 this year.

A few years ago the program teamed up with the Posse Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps high-achieving students from urban areas enroll in top-tier colleges.

The Posse program works by putting students together in teams, or “posses,” to create a support network that will stay with them through their undergraduate years. Posse has place 1,850 students in college during the past 18 years, with a 90-percent graduation rate, according to the organization.

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Doctorate Not Required

On the community-college front, Mr. Farrell says, the Fulbright Program must do more to encourage people from two-year institutions to apply, and it must be more open to their credentials. Only 1.8 percent of applicants for Fulbright scholarships this year came from community colleges.

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Those requirements, he adds, are actually more flexible than many people realize. Fulbright does not require all applicants to have Ph.D.’s. Equivalent experience is considered when appropriate. {snip}

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Finally, Fulbright is also trying to broaden the pool of American institutions that receive some of the 560 or so foreign Fulbright scholars each year. Community colleges and other two-year institutions, historically black colleges, and small, rural colleges have all been high on the State Department’s list. Feedback from host colleges has been remarkably positive, Mr. Farrell says, because the exchanges are often among the few opportunities that students and faculty members have to interact with foreign scholars.

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