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By Ricardo Torres January 17, 2024

Would NBA star's family qualify for financial aid benefits based on affirmative action?

If Your Time is short

  • In the financial aid cases cited, there are multiple grants and loans that include race to be eligible, but in most cases race is not the sole determinant for getting the grant.

  • For instance, financial need typically has to be demonstrated to receive funding for many programs

  • Aside from that, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo does not represent the broader financial reality of most minorities in the state.

Determining which students get financial aid can be a challenge and when the decision-making process involves race and ethnicity, it can become even more complicated.  

Assembly Bill 554 would remove race-based programs or requirements for higher education and replace them with a program that applies to economically disadvantaged students.  

In November, state Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, used an interesting example to argue the change from race-based to need-based aid is necessary. 

"Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a three-year contract for $186 million. He and his family, being African American, could receive benefits under affirmative action," Murphy said on the Assembly floor. 

Murphy went on to say some minorities could still receive benefits if the bill is passed and signed into law. 

"Let’s face it, disadvantaged African Americans would certainly qualify under this program, as well they should," Murphy said. "And that’s exactly what we would want to happen." 

First and foremost, Antetokounmpo was born in Greece and is of Nigerian descent. That said, we’re isolating Murphy’s main point one on one. 

Could Antetokounmpo’s children receive benefits under affirmative action?

Funding for minority students 

When we asked Murphy’s office for evidence to support his claim, aide Steve Knudson responded with a list of categories and programs,including graduate student financial aid, the Ben R. Lawton Minority Undergraduate Grant Program and the Minority Teacher Loan program. 

Knudson said in an email that each program "does not statutorily require recipients to demonstrate financial need."

Because the bill focuses on financial aid, and that was the evidence provided, we are focusing on that and not other areas where affirmative action might be applied, such as hiring. 

Connie Hutchinson, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board, told us she wished Murphy reached out to her "to discuss this before making that statement." 

The Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board, is a 10-member part-time independent policy-making board appointed by the governor. 

"Students are required to show ‘need’ in order to receive grants and/or loans from the state through the Higher Educational Aids Board," Hutchinson said in an email. "The only programs that do not require need are the Academic and Technical Excellence Scholarships. These are awarded to the students with the highest GPA of their graduating class." 

Taylor Odle, an assistant professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agreed with Hutchinson.

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"Some of these programs are focused on racially minoritized students," Odle said. "The hallmark is the Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant and it gives students $2,500 per year. What is not mentioned, I think, in a lot of dialogue, is that they not only have to qualify as a racially minoritized student, but they also have to qualify on the basis of financial need." 

He also said citing Antetokounmpo as an example of why race-based criteria should be removed is a stretch: "The average person in Wisconsin doesn’t make $186 million every three years. (Antetokounmpo) does not represent the majority of Black, Latinx, Asian American, Native American Wisconsinites. That potential fringe case doesn’t negate the really wide realities of racial inequality that we have in Wisconsin." 

Let’s look a little more closely at the three programs Murphy’s office specifically cited.

Lawton grant program

In his email, Knudson cited an applicant must belong to one of several minority groups as a basis for qualification, without noting other requirements such as the student must be at least a sophomore, have submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year and show what is termed an Expected Family Contribution below $15,000 as well as general financial need.

The UW System's administrative policy on the Lawton grant states:  

"The program will be need-based, need being calculated by the prevailing federal methodology, except that an institution may set aside up to 10 percent of its allocation to be awarded to students based on other need criteria developed by the institution. Financial aid officers are strongly encouraged to be sensitive to the special needs of minority students and to carefully examine the student’s available resources in developing a financial aid package." 

So, by citing this program, Murphy shot an airball.  

Graduate student financial aid

On the graduate student financial aid, Murphy’s office wasn’t specific as to which program it was referencing, except to say state statute requires "the Board of Regents to establish a grant program for minority and disadvantaged graduate students enrolled in the UW System." 

"This statute does not specify or take into account student financial need. Under the statute an individual is eligible for this aid if they are a minority or disadvantaged graduate student," Knudson said, adding that neither term is defined.

Although the state statute exists, there are multiple programs at UW-Madison that advise colleges to consider a students’ socio-economic status.

So, here Murphy falls short as well.

Minority teacher loan program

Finally, the Minority Teacher Loan program requires a student to work after graduation in a school with at least 40% minority students. Students can then have the loan forgiven, up to $10,000 per academic year and up to $30,000 total, after they have completed working at the school.

But to receive the loan, students must also be a Wisconsin resident, enrolled in the UW System, have an overall 3.0 grade point average, and "be enrolled in a program of study leading to a teacher’s license in a discipline identified as a teacher shortage area for the state of Wisconsin by the federal Department of Education."  

On this one, Murphy is closer — in that being a member of a minority group is required, but it is one of multiple other factors.

Our ruling 

Murphy claimed "Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a three-year contract for $186 million. He and his family, being African American, could receive benefits under affirmative action." 

The bill in question is focused on financial aid programs, and the ones Murphy’s office cited include financial need as a central qualifying element. Or, in the case of the Minority Teacher Loan program, includes other factors beyond race to qualify.

Our definition of Mostly False is "the statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That’s our rating on this one.


Our Sources

State Rep. Dave Murphy statement, November 7, 2023

Assembly Bill 554

Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board, last checked January 2024

Graduate Student financial aid, last checked January 2024

UW-Madison, Graduate Research Scholar Communities, last checked January 2024

Lawton Undergraduate Minority Retention Grant Program, last checked January 2024

UW-Madison Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, financing your graduate education, last checked January 2024

Minority Teacher Loan Program, last checked January 2024

Federal TRIO Programs, last checked January 2024

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