X-percent system has a few kinks

The Education Beat

College: A proposal to guarantee the top students from every high school admission to state universities may not be easy answer to boosting minority enrollment

May 31, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT SEEMS such a simple proposition: Increase minority enrollment in public colleges by guaranteeing admission to high school graduates with the best grades.

The class-rank system, or "X-percent solution," is policy in California, Texas and Florida, which this fall will guarantee spots in public colleges to the top 20 percent of graduates of every high school in the state. That approach is being discussed in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Many in higher education see it as an easy, efficient way to integrate colleges without racial preferences.

Others see the X-percent solution as simplistic and cynical. "The problem with such a policy is that it really doesn't take into account the academic background of kids," says Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "I guess the word to sum it up is that it's simplistic."

The quality of high schools varies greatly across districts -- even within districts, says Hrabowski, so the valedictorian at one high school might not be in the top 10 percent of the senior class in a school a few miles away. Might not be in the top 20 percent.

Maryland doesn't have a standard high school diploma, although the state is moving in that direction with high school exit tests. Some city high schools, for example, don't offer a single advanced placement course.

There is such variable quality among state high schools that an X-percent solution could throw unprepared students into college and cheat those whose grade-point averages suffered at demanding high schools.

It's commencement season, so let us not identify those schools that will graduate students this spring with good grades but inadequate preparation for the rigor demanded by universities. Suffice to say that some city schools have SAT averages of 700 to 800 out of a possible 1,600, while students at Centennial High School in Howard County scored an average of 1,143 last year.

Hrabowski has accumulated a critical mass of talented black students at UMBC and demonstrated that top high school students of any race can be recruited to a high-quality program.

A class-rank approach might make it even easier for officials to ignore segregation in high schools, and there's plenty of ignoring going on.

UM commencement with a European air

Gov. Parris N. Glendening delivered an address and picked up an honorary degree Sunday in Heidelberg, Germany, at a commencement marking the 50th anniversary of the University of Maryland, University College's European division. UMUC gave out 750 associate and 700 bachelor's degrees; Bowie State University and the University of Maryland, College Park awarded 160 master's degrees.

UMUC , the worldwide campus of the University System of Maryland, has delivered degrees to 47,000 adults in Europe since it began holding classes there at the request of the military a half-century ago.

Many of the degrees were awarded to military personnel. UMUC has programs at nearly 100 U.S. military sites in 22 countries.

A degree of satisfaction, 35 years in the making

This Morgan State University graduate took only 35 years to get her degree.

Edna Cheek, a 54-year-old grandmother of seven, called the other day to say she had graduated from Morgan with a 3.423 grade-point average. It was several days after Morgan's commencement, but Cheek said she was "still on cloud 20." She said she wanted young people to know "you can graduate from college, too, if you only put your mind to it."

The daughter of sharecroppers in Four Oaks, N.C., Cheek started college at 19 at nearby Shaw University in Raleigh. After two years, "I got married and a baby came along, and I put college on the back burner."

When Cheek decided to register six years ago at Morgan, she had been gone so long that "it took Shaw a year to locate my transcript." Beginning in 1995, Cheek began taking courses evenings and summers, around her full-time job at Morgan. "I had some anxiety about it, but eventually I found it was OK. I got so I couldn't stop. I even managed to survive statistics."

Her three children and a host of grandchildren and in-laws attended commencement. Cheek earned a degree in mental health technology; she's already planning graduate study in sociology.

A doctorate eventually? "I like the sound of it."

It wouldn't be the first such degree in the Cheek family. James E. Cheek and King V. Cheek, brothers of her late husband Franklin, are former college presidents, of Howard University in Washington and Morgan State in Baltimore, respectively.

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