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McNair: Honor Astronaut, Support Graduate Education

Likewise, the department’s reasoning fails to consider the ability of these low-income, minority and underrepresented students to fund a higher education. Without assistance from the McNair Scholars and other programs, many of these potential leaders would not be afforded the opportunity to pursue such education, especially in these hard economic times where the cost of education and student loans are increasing exponentially.

Thus, while the desire to increase the number of minorities and other underrepresented STEM graduates at an earlier stage has merit, the college component cannot be neglected — all earlier efforts will be in vain if the students cannot afford to pursue higher education.

It is this cause that brings me to Capitol Hill this week to defend the McNair Scholars Program.

In recent years, we have seen programs such as McNair Scholars increase the numbers of low-income and minority students earning doctoral degrees. Such an increase is crucial to our country’s future competitiveness. Yet these groups remain underrepresented despite the fact that they are a growing portion of our overall student population.

Rather than cutting back federal assistance for this critical and highly effective program, we should be doing everything we can to support a new crop of graduates who have the potential to drive the U.S. economy of the future and soar to great heights like my husband.

Cheryl M. McNair is the widow of astronaut Ronald E. McNair, who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

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