Maryland's public universities look pretty good in the latestnational study of African American progress in higher education. Here are a few of the findings from a survey released in May by ''Black Issues in Higher Education,'' a Virginia-based magazine.
* The University of Maryland at College Park graduates more black students than any other predominately white institution of higher education in the country.
Towson State University ranks 16th nationally in this category, ahead of many much larger and better known public universities, such as Ohio State, Texas, Michigan and North Carolina.
* College Park ranks third among all universities (whether predominately black or white) in the number of doctoral degrees awarded to blacks.
* The University of Maryland at Baltimore County tied with College Park for 26th among all universities in the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to blacks in engineering, computer science and math.
* The law school of the University of Maryland at Baltimore ranks 8th in the country in law degrees awarded to blacks, and the University of Baltimore law school ranks 23rd.
* Morgan State University ranks sixth among all universities in the number of baccalaureate business degrees and 12th in the number of baccalaureate engineering degrees conferred on blacks.
These simple statistics can be misleading. For example, they are based only on 1988-9 data, the latest available. But the numbers point to an encouraging conclusion:
Maryland's public colleges and universities are making progress toward the goal of giving black students the opportunity to earn the college degrees that are now more necessary than ever to open the door to the American dream.
In the decade after the civil rights revolution, black Americans pursued higher education in increasing numbers. By 1975, 33 percent of all 18-to-24-year-old black high school graduates went to college.
But then something went wrong. The number of black college students began to drop. By 1980, it had fallen to only 26 percent, and it remained at that level through 1988. The decline was precipitous for black males. During the decade there were more of them in prison than in college.
Lately, however, that discouraging downward trend seems to have been reversed. By 1990-1991, 33 percent of all 18-to-24-year-old black high school graduates were again going to college -- a level not reached since 1975.
Aggregate black enrollments at all of Maryland's public four-year colleges and universities have risen more than 30 percent in the last seven years -- from 10,430 or 18.5 percent of the total student population in 1985 to 13,593 or 24.2 percent last fall.
At Morgan, enrollments of new full-time students have leapt 73 percent from 612 in 1986 to 1,060 in 1991.
At College Park, the number of black full-time freshmen rose from 10.5 percent in 1985 to 15.8 percent in 1989 before sliding back to 13 percent last fall. Between 1985 and 1990 blacks rose from 5.3 to 7.7 percent of its graduating classes. This year 11.2 percent of its undergraduates are black.
At UMBC, 19 percent of last fall's entering freshman class was black. This year, 14.6 percent of its full-time undergraduates and 13 percent of Class of '92 graduates were black. The retention rate for its black students is now higher than it is for its white students.
These achievements are the result of a lot of hard work. The state's colleges and universities have developed a variety of recruitment, financial aid, retention and mentoring programs for their black students. The state has spent millions enhancing its previously neglected and under-funded historically black institutions.
There is still a great deal left to do. The biggest challenge is to develop ways to bring black students into the scientific and technological fields. For example, of the 461 mathematics doctorates conferred by all American universities last year, only ten went to blacks.
Maryland has quietly become a leader in this area. The Meyerhoff Scholars program at UMBC will have 110 black math and science students on that campus this coming fall. Under the leadership of Freeman A. Hrabowski, recently named UMBC's interim president, the program has become a national model.
The 43 new scholarship recipients who will enter the freshman class have a mean SAT score over 1200. They are the most able and best prepared group of black freshmen entering a science-technology curriculum in any public university in America. They join another 500 non-scholarship black students majoring in science and technology fields at UMBC.
At Morgan, Dean Eugene M. DeLoatch has built an impressive new engineering school. It began only in 1984. Last year, it had 554 students and conferred 45 baccalaureate degrees -- 42 percent of the engineering degrees earned by blacks in all of Maryland's public universities.
The question now is whether this progress will be undermined by recession, budget cuts, rising tuitions, reductions in financial aid and legal attacks on minority scholarships.
Some of the programs have already been hurt. For example, the number of blacks admitted to College Park has dropped from 15.8 percent of the entering class in 1989 to 13 percent last year. A number of black students turned down College Park to accept better financial aid packages from Penn State, the University of Virginia and the University of Delaware.
Three hundred years of slavery and discrimination left black Americans far behind in their access to higher education. A decade of progress was lost between 1976 and 1986. We cannot afford to lose another one.
Tim Baker writes on issues of city and state.