Black students' gender gap

EDUCATION BEAT

College: African-American women outnumber their male counterparts 2 to 1 on campuses.

December 21, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

YOU NEED an appointment to get in a few words with Veronica L. Austin.

By day, the 33-year-old East Baltimore resident, single with a 12-year-old daughter, works full time as a staff assistant in neuroscience and psychiatric nursing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. By night, she pursues a bachelor's degree in business administration at Strayer University's White Marsh campus.

"I guess you could say I'm driven," says Austin, who hopes to earn the degree in the winter of 2006.

When she looks around her Strayer classroom, Austin says, "I see lots of people my age and older, lots of single people and very few African-American men."

Austin, who is black, is one of thousands of African-American women who are fueling a gender gap on almost all Maryland campuses, public and private.

The state Higher Education Commission keeps track of such things, and last week I asked the agency to run enrollment and graduation figures, by sex, for Maryland's colleges and universities. Among the findings:

Women have dominated enrollment at all campuses for the past decade, but the number of white women has declined slightly, while African-American women are flocking to higher education. From 1993 to 2002, their numbers increased by more than 8,000 on community college campuses, while the enrollment of white women in that sector declined by about the same number.

Enrollment of black women at independent colleges such as the Johns Hopkins University nearly doubled over the 10-year period, while that of black men more than doubled. But the men were outnumbered: 64 percent of the African-American students on private college campuses last year were women.

Even in graduate and professional schools, African-American women are the primary reason that women dominate enrollment. Their numbers in public graduate schools nearly doubled over the decade, and their enrollment in private university graduate programs more than doubled.

Women earned 3,000 of the 4,400 bachelor's degrees given to blacks last year at four-year schools, outnumbering male African-American graduates about 2 to 1.

Austin exemplifies the trend, says Chris Toe, president of Strayer, a multistate university that serves primarily adults older than traditional college-age students and has none of the trappings of the traditional campus, including sports. "I'm not going out for the cheerleading squad," Austin says.

What she is going out for is job advancement. A high school diploma is no longer enough, nor are many black women still channeled into careers as teachers and nurses. Maryland community colleges, which enroll one in 14 of the state's employed workers, and schools such as Strayer build programs - including online offerings - around the schedules of people like Austin, who must balance family, work and education. Strayer, which started as a business school in 1892 in downtown Baltimore, has seen its African-American enrollment increase 76 percent in four years.

Experts don't know why African-American women are thriving on the United State's campuses, while their male counterparts are struggling. The same doors are open to both sexes, the same scholarships available. But in the race to higher education, this isn't the weaker sex.

Developments in state's schools

By popular demand, another short anagrammatical report on recent developments in Maryland education (thanks to Wordsmith.org):

Baltimore schools chief Bonnie Copeland (On one bad pencil) had to lay off more than 700 employees in a budget crisis.

Nancy S. Grasmick (Cynics sang, "Mark!"), state schools chief, announced a new curriculum in African-American history and culture.

Jerry D. Weast (Tawdry jeers), Montgomery County superintendent, said all-day kindergartens are effective in improving the reading skills of 5-year-olds.

John R. O'Rourke (Our horn joker), Howard County superintendent, is trying to put a lid on a grade-changing scandal.

If Copeland wants to hire a chief of discipline, we hear former city and state police Chief Edward Norris (Ardor drew sin) is available.

Respectfully submitted,

Mike Bowler (OK, I'm el brew).

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