Blacks' arduous college journey

The Education Beat

Report: The Southern Education Foundation says African-Americans begin higher education at about the same rate as whites, but the situation afterward is dismal.

April 07, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ASK AN EAGER second-grader in Baltimore what she wants to be when she grows up.

"A scientist," she might say, the response so sweetly naive that no one dares mention the arduous journey ahead.

Just how arduous, especially for African-Americans, was made clear yesterday in a report issued in Annapolis by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation.

In sum, the report says that while blacks are approaching whites in their rate of college entrance, what happens after they get there is unacceptable. Blacks are half as likely as whites to earn bachelor's degrees, and they trail whites by virtually every measure of opportunity.

Here are some of the dispiriting findings of the report, "Miles to Go: Maryland":

* Of those African-American high school graduates who enroll in higher education, relatively few go to four-year institutions. The majority -- 57 percent in 1996 -- enter community colleges, 28 percent go to historically black colleges and 15 percent attend historically white institutions.

* But of those Maryland African-Americans who enter community colleges, few graduate or transfer to four-year colleges.

* Of those who transfer, 33 percent earn a degree. Forty-nine percent of whites do.

* It's not only a community college problem. Forty percent of blacks who enter Maryland's four-year public colleges graduate. Two-thirds of whites graduate.

Maryland is not alone in these dismal statistics. This report is a follow-up to a 1998 examination of higher education opportunities in the 19 states that once operated segregated systems.

Maryland is one of those states, and it's useful to be reminded of that. We assume all too easily that 40 years of civil rights efforts have erased inequalities.

"There's a tremendous amount of wishful thinking and ambivalence about this," said Robert A. Kronley, who helped compile the report. "It may be old news, but that doesn't lessen its urgency."

The Southern Education Foundation chose the governor's State House reception room and a Tuesday morning late in the General Assembly session as the place and time to release "Miles to Go." It was appropriate. The report calls for major improvements in precollege education, for measures to make teaching a more attractive and lucrative profession and for major increases in student financial aid.

Maryland has moved on some of the recommendations. The state's "K-16 initiative" is bringing elementary-secondary and higher education together in common cause. Part of the agenda requires legislation. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's HOPE scholarship program, which promises college scholarships to students who maintain a "B" average in high school, is in the legislative works.

Most of the leaders of elementary-secondary and higher education were there yesterday, along with such powerhouses as Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and a member of the foundation's national advisory panel.

"Maryland does have miles to go," said Kronley, "but at least its leaders are willing to confront the issues. Some states are running away from them."

Because community colleges are an invention of the late 20th century, their becoming dead-ends for many African-American students is a relatively new problem. "Without a concerted strategy, there's a danger that community colleges will become warehouses" for students no one else in higher education wants, said Kronley.

But the most intractable problem is at the other end of the pipeline, where too many students are passed from grade to grade without learning to read, write and compute. The child who can't read well at 9 is the high school dropout by 16 or the community college dropout at 19.

UMBC students honored at Model U.N. Conference

Students from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County received "distinguished delegation" honors for their representation of Angola at the National Model United Nations Conference last week in New York.

The UMBC students, representing Angola and Congo, competed at United Nations headquarters against 2,000 others.

Fun Towerlight issue shows right touch of April foolery

April Fool issues of college newspapers can be sophomoric, but the April 1 edition of Towson University's Towerlight was a work of much good fun, with just the right touch of satire.

Our favorite item was a report that Towson was to build Maryland's first on-campus miniature golf course. The "campus-putt" would be a "win-win situation for all parties," said President Hoke Smith, whose bust would be part of the 19th hole. ("If a player hits a ball in Smith's mouth, that player receives a free game.") The $400,000 course would "strengthen the school's image as a metropolitan university for the 21st century," said Smith, albeit in April foolishness.

Another article, aimed at recent clashes with neighbors over expansion of a football field, announced a $230 million domed stadium on campus with seating for 62,000 and underground parking for 30,000 cars.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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