More minorities earning degrees

66.5% increase since '92 attributed to greater enrollment, support

May 06, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Growing numbers of minority students are earning degrees in Maryland's post-secondary schools, according to a report issued by the state Higher Education Commission.

The report, "Trends in Degrees and Certificates by Race and Gender, Maryland Higher Education Institutions," shows that certificates and associate's, bachelor's and postgraduate degrees earned by African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans have increased 66.5 percent since 1992.

For years, minorities were entering two- and four-year institutions and dropping out before they made it to their senior year. Money was one major reason. A foreign and unfriendly college environment was another.

That's changed in the past several years.

"I think it's significant compared to where we were 10 years ago," said Karen R. Johnson, the state's secretary of higher education. "You're looking at what the face of the future work force is going to look like."

Part of the increase is because of surging enrollments among nearly all minority groups, said Michael Keller, the commission's director of policy analysis and research. Minority student enrollments in Maryland have increased by 50 percent over the past 10 years, he said.

But the growth can also be attributed to the fact that more of those minorities -- particularly Asians and African-Americans -- are finishing what they start.

About "30 percent of all the bachelor degree recipients have been minorities," Johnson said. "I think it was 20 percent 10 years ago."

The state's public and private schools handed out 6,700 bachelor's degrees last year to blacks, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians. That's up from 4,133 in 1992.

The trend is encouraging, educators said.

"The idea is not just getting kids into college, it's getting them out of college with a degree," said William Harvey, vice president and director of the American Council on Education's Office of Minorities in Higher Education in Washington. "If the Maryland institutions are leading the way in terms of what they're doing to be successful, I think it's worth having other states take a look at what they're doing."

Getting more minorities enrolled in post-secondary school has been a goal of the commission and the state for many years, Johnson said. But more important, state officials want to see more earning degrees.

Recruiting `not enough'

"It's not enough just to recruit the students," Johnson said. "You have to support them once they're on your campus and there's a real effort to do that."

The governor's office has increased the amount of financial aid it gives to qualified minorities, Keller said. And the commission has been giving grants to schools to develop strategies and programs that will keep minorities in college.

Over the past decade, many Maryland colleges and universities have developed initiatives specifically aimed at minority students, with the intent of providing them with whatever tools they need to remain in school -- including resources, mentors and financial aid.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has its prestigious Meyerhoff Scholars program, which has seen its successes spill over into other areas of the campus, officials there said.

Other students "know about the Meyerhoff program and they see success," said UMBC spokesman Charlie Melichar. "I think it's because they see the success that these kids are having that they know this is a place where they can get some support and where they can succeed."

Even junior colleges -- such as Howard Community College -- have instituted support programs for minorities.

The 3-year-old Silas Craft Collegians program -- named after a black education pioneer in Howard -- has documented great success in keeping students in school, program director Pam Cornell said.

Historically, the school noticed that, among other groups, African-Americans, particularly men, had the lowest retention rate. Last year, however, 83 percent of Silas Craft program participants returned.

"That is a really high retention rate for anyone," Cornell said. "There are universities that lose 40 percent of their freshman class." The Silas Craft program brings a selected group of students in as a group, assigns them mentors and clusters them in their core classes together, provides cultural activities such as museum trips and makes tutoring and study times mandatory.

`An additional step'

"All schools have these kinds of services, but getting students to them is an additional step; one that if colleges don't take, the students who more than likely need those additional steps, don't usually seek them out," Cornell said.

The commission's report shows that the state's historically black colleges and universities tend, of course, to corner the market in awarding degrees to minorities, African-Americans in particular.

The state's four historically black schools awarded 1,838 of the 4,428 bachelor's degrees earned last year by African-Americans.

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