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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Was Morehead-Cain's expansion to sophomores only for those in the know?

2022-09-16 Lam,university-laser-projection-morehead-2.jpg
Morehead Planetarium stands tall on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2022.

The Morehead-Cain Foundation, the first merit-based scholarship program in the nation, recently opened its doors to UNC sophomores. The move is unprecedented for the program, which historically has only admitted incoming first-year students.

Many sophomores filled out the application to vie for the 12 to 15 coveted spots. Students had to be nominated by UNC faculty or staff before submitting an application, which opened on Sept. 15 and closed on Oct. 1.

The application was not the same as the one high school seniors filled out, according to Chris Bradford, the president of the program. It was shorter and focused on the applicants’ achievements since coming to UNC. 

But how did the sophomores who applied know that the application was open? 

There was no official announcement to UNC students about the scholarship opening to the current class of 2026, and the only public news found online came from The Daily Tar Heel’s Sept. 19 article.

The lack of a public announcement to students from the foundation, combined with the short turnaround time to submit applications, could lead one to believe that it was perhaps not a move made with accessibility and equity in mind. Rather, it appears access to information about applying depended on existing connections to those in the Morehead-Cain community.

Limiting information to a certain group of students, whether intentional or not, begs the question: Is there a select applicant pool that the Morehead-Cain Foundation already has its eyes on? 

In an interview with The DTH, Bradford said the Morehead-Cain Foundation's selection process reflects the challenges associated with “elite college admissions.” 

Opening up the scholarship to students already enrolled at UNC should be an opportunity to level the playing field for applicants and challenge the elitism Bradford is talking about — especially for applicants who didn’t have access to the Morehead-Cain application in high school.

Instead, the indirect approach the foundation took to communicate the expansion thwarted efforts to improve the scholarship’s accessibility. 

The decision to extend its community and resources to more students is, on paper, an initial step in the right direction for the Morehead-Cain scholarship program. It gives more students support and a chance to broaden their network and experience — but only for the accepted pool of applicants.

As the first merit scholarship in the nation, this sets a poor example for other programs that look to model themselves after the Morehead-Cain. 

If the foundation wants to meaningfully change its elitist reputation, it should use the sophomore intake as an opportunity to engage with more students across the University, beyond already existing circles. 

The foundation will announce the accepted sophomores in November, Bradford said. In the meantime, we can only wonder if widening the gates of the Morehead-Cain Foundation will lead to a more diverse class or only extend the program's exclusivity.

@dthopinion |

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