Colleges shortchange black students Lack of opportunity: Foundation cites continuing problems in southern states, including Maryland.

August 26, 1998

THE LATEST report by the Southern Education Foundation on the status of blacks in higher education in the South begins with a pointed indictment.

"Race remains a powerful and persistent barrier to the full and equal participation of blacks in higher education in the 19 states that previously operated segregated colleges and universities," the report said.

"Despite some promising initiatives in these states, remnants of the past continue to restrict opportunity for black students, limiting their aspirations . . ."

According to the foundation, some bad things happened on the road to integrating the South's colleges that not only hindered progress, but in several states of the Old Confederacy led to declines in the numbers of minority freshmen admitted.

The report says flagship universities, schools that are the pride of their states -- the University of Maryland, Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU -- are failing to enroll black students in proportion to their percentages of the populations.

One side-effect is to put an extremely heavy burden on under-financed historically black colleges and universities.

Many blacks are caught in the vise of declining financial help and low family income that prevents them from pursuing higher education. In the 19 states, black family income was less than two-thirds of white family income in 1995. In 12 states, 30 percent of black families made under $10,000 annually.

The foundation in its report, titled "Miles To Go," put the blame mainly on misguided financial aid policies at some of the schools, harsh political climate and adverse court decisions on race issues.

These feed on one another: a bad court decision, such as the Hopwood case that said diversity is not compelling enough to consider race in admission to the University of Texas Law School, or political action, such as California's proposition that banned affirmative action in admissions and financial aid, leads politicians to react strongly and negatively, and sometimes prematurely before the issues are clear or in some cases do not apply to their jurisdictions.

College administrators then cut aid to poorer students and dismantle diversity programs.

The results, as the foundation noted, are declining proportions of black students in nine of the 19 states and stagnant numbers of blacks earning bachelor's degrees. In none of the states does black representation in graduate school reflect their numbers in the population, and blacks on state college faculty -- "essential for providing role models and mentoring" -- are underrepresented. The graduate figures and faculty diversity are extremely important to attracting and retaining black students.

The foundation noted that several states, including Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky, have moved to improve higher education. For example, programs to attract and retain more minority students in the sciences "are flourishing" at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and at Bowie State University.

The report is both an indictment and a challenge. As the study emphasized, "What happens to black students in the colleges and universities of these 19 states affects more than one region."

When black students and their families are shortchanged, not only Maryland and the region, but the entire nation suffers without the benefit of this lost talent, untapped potential and latent productivity.

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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