Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) occupies an ever more visible role in corporate and educational settings, and rightly so. For scholarship providers, this offers an opportunity to provide funds that allow students from marginalized backgrounds to pursue higher education that they might otherwise be limited from pursuing. Providing DEI scholarships has the long-term benefit of making our universities and workplaces look and feel more like the broader world around us. The goal of this blog is to help scholarship providers think through five basic principles and best practices around creating DEI scholarships.

Define Your Target Audience

Narrowing down the target audience for a DEI scholarship is an important first step. A scholarship geared towards Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) applicants will look different than a scholarship geared towards LGBTQIA+ applicants. There is no right or wrong answer to the audience question, it simply helps your organization meet its own diversity needs. This requires a knowledge of your own organizational goals and of broader trends, which brings us to the second point.

Know the Statistics

The need for DEI scholarships is demonstrated when one is aware of the statistics on marginalized communities and college attendance. For example, a 2019 report found that BIPOC make up 45% of undergraduate populations and have a much higher attrition rate due to a variety of mental health and financial factors. According to a 2018 study, LGBTQIA+ students make up nearly 17% of college populations, a number that is surely higher now with Generation Z trends on gender and sexual identity (20.8% of Gen Z identified as LGBTQIA+ in a 2022 Gallup poll, at least double that of any previous generation). Finally, Yale Scientific Magazine found that despite concerted efforts, women still only make up 29% of the STEM workforce while women of color account for a mere 4.87%. Awareness of this data is essential for scholarship providers to better grasp what communities and populations are underrepresented and to make the best decisions for distributing their limited funds.

Judging the Judges

Another important piece to the DEI scholarship puzzle is awareness of who is writing applications and selecting scholarship recipients. Ideally, application designers and selection committees will have representation from the communities for which they are providing scholarships. The reason may seem obvious but is worth stating anyway: It is impossible to truly understand the experiences of a community that one does not belong to. For the most equitable outcomes possible, it is key to have committees with representation who understand and have experienced what applicants have gone through and what they have ahead of them as they enter college and the workforce.

Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Conversations about DEI are fraught with potential psychological safety triggers for all involved. These are the topics we are taught aren’t meant for polite company – heavy topics that come with a lot of baggage. Engaging in these difficult discussions within your organization, however, is essential to open doors for underrepresented communities to seek higher education and help our college campuses and workplaces better reflect our society. These scenarios also present space for personal and professional growth, as well as relationship building, within your organization.

Keep the Goal in Mind

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details we’ve outlined above and lose sight of what we are providing by sponsoring these types of scholarships – we are making it possible for marginalized and underrepresented populations to pursue higher education, something they may not be able to do without this funding. Scholarships quite literally change lives. They help students persist through their college education and graduate when they may not have otherwise been able to do so because of financial stressors. Keeping your mission in mind helps put things in perspective when selecting a target audience, designing programs and having uncomfortable conversations. The impact of students receiving life-changing funding makes all the work well worth it.

*Originally published as guest blog for National Scholarship Providers Association