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The long, winding, and neglected road – Black students do not reality education parity in Southern state college and universities

SEF report reveals that after thirty years of Black progress along
the path to higher education parity, there are still `Miles To Go’

Washington — More than two decades of hard-fought desegregation
efforts have yielded few results and left Black students in the South
with meager gains in access to the public four-year schools.

So reported the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) late last
month, also revealing other bleak statistics in their latest study,
Miles To Go, that assesses higher education in the nineteen states that
once operated racially separate college systems.

The percentage of Blacks going to the public institutions, the
foundation found, has barely budged. Black students account for 15
percent of first time, full-time freshmen undergraduates at public
four-year institutions in 1976, and 17 percent in 1996.

“It’s not a popular issue in the South, not because people are
walking around as pointy-headed racists anymore, but because they’d
rather ignore it and hope it will go away,” said Robert Kronley, the
study’s author and head of the foundation’s program on educational
opportunity and postsecondary desegregation. “But the evidence shows
that we’re not going to be able to close our eyes and will these
problems away.”

Widely received in the higher education community, the report noted
Black students at public institutions in the South remain largely at
community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs), and are scarcely represented in the state flagship

Only 12.1 percent of the Blacks entering public institutions of
higher education in the nineteen states in 1996 went to traditionally
White schools, the study found. As a result, Blacks accounted for only
8.6 percent of the freshmen attending flagship state universities
across the South.

Nine of the states in the study reported that the percentage of
Blacks in their freshman classes in fact declined between 1991 and 1996.

The study also revealed that Blacks are more likely than Whites to
leave college without degrees. While 14.7 of freshmen at the South’s
four-year institutions in 1988 were Black, only 9.8 percent of those
who received a degree within six years were Black.

And the percentage of Blacks among students earning doctoral
degrees climbed less than a percentage point in two decades, from 3.8
percent in 1976-77 to 4.3 percent in 1994-95. Among those Blacks who
earn doctoral degrees, almost half are concentrated in the field of

How Did This Happen?

The study points to several reasons the public flagship
institutions — considered to have stronger academic programs, greater
professional networks, and more credentialed faculty than community
colleges and HBCUs — have been all but inaccessible for African
American students.

Kronley said that conflicting court decisions over the use of race
in college admissions and the current political battle over affirmative
action have given some state officials excuses to slow or eliminate
race-based remedies.

The report also cites higher admissions standards at flagship
schools and inefficient preparation in secondary schools as prime
reasons why Black students simply aren’t successful at gaining
admission to public, four-year schools.

The South also was faulted for its high percentage of merit-based,
as opposed to need-based, financial aid. The study found that on
average, southern states distributed more than one-third of all their
financial aid without consideration of need — a whopping 10 times the
percentage of aid being distributed on a non-need basis in the
thirty-one other states. And in twelve of the nineteen states studied,
at least 30 percent of all Black families had incomes under $10,000.

Additionally, the report found that Black faculty — whom the
authors describe as “essential for providing role models and mentoring”
— were concentrated mainly at community colleges and HBCUs. In
Mississippi, 87 percent of Black faculty were at community or
historically Black colleges. In North Carolina, that number was 80
percent. In Maryland, the number was 66 percent.

Hardly anyone concerned with the fate of minorities in higher education was surprised by the statistics exposed in the study.

“This is old news. It’s almost like the Kerner report. It didn’t
say anything we didn’t already know,” said Dr. Roscoe Brown, who runs
the center for urban educational policy at the City University of New
York’s graduate center.

Dr. James McLean, who ran the desegregation efforts in Virginia
under then-Gov. Douglas Wilder, said the report’s findings sound like
“deja vu.”

“In 1968, these same states were asked to develop plans to
desegregate their systems and nothing happened until 1972,” he said.
“In 1972, all but two developed plans and those plans ranged from no
plans to plans to plan.”

Who’s to Blame?

Many said the states — which were federally mandated to
desegregate their institution of higher learning as a result of the
U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Adams case of 1972 — never showed
any real level of commitment to parity.

“If the states were truly interested in equity and desegregation,
they would have put those attractive programs at the HBCUs long ago,”
said Dr. Reggie Wilson, senior scholar for the American Council on

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who was the lead plaintiff in
the Fordice case that desegregated Mississippi’s public colleges and
universities, said that in his state, guaranteeing access for
minorities has never been a priority.

“I don’t have any confidence in Mississippi state higher education
officials with regards to taking the leadership to desegregate the
flagship schools,” he said. “These are people they play golf with.
They’re not about to upset the apple cart.”

He said that the separate but unequal college system there has been
around so long that it’s taken for granted today. “We’re trying to
change tradition,” he said. “The tradition has been around so long,
it’s almost law.”

Dr. Johnny L. Harris, president of J.F. Drake State Technical
College in Huntsville, Alabama, said that “this whole thing is
politically controlled by people who don’t care a whole lot about

But Thompson pointed out that there are several Black politicians who have been remiss in the desegregation efforts.

“We have a significant number of African American elected officials
in the South,” he said. “They’re usually the number one or number two
person on the committees affecting the HBCUs. We’ve got to start
putting some of those folks out to fire.”

Dr. N. Joyce Payne, who oversees advancement and public Black
colleges for the National Association of State Universities and
Land-Grant Colleges, said that the blame should be shared.

“It comes from the bottom all the way up to the highest levels of
leadership — the national leadership, the Congress, the state
legislatures,” she said. “This is a commitment that needs to be built
into the fabric of our society.”

Others, pointed to negligence in the Black community.

“You can’t blame all our problems on other folks,” said Thompson.
“The responsibility for at least raising the issue falls on the
impacted class, which would be Black students, parents, and those of us
in the Black community who give a damn.”

“In some ways, we internalize the stereotypes and do not place
enough demand on the school system for high quality education,” said
Brown. “That’s something we need to deal with in our own community.”

`A Wake-Up Call’

Many people also cited the U.S. Department of Education for its
role in the matter. The department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) —
which oversaw state efforts to desegregate higher education — loosened
its reins on many states during the 1980s.

Eldridge W. McMillan, the SEF’s chief executive officer, said OCR
was irresponsible for letting the states operate under good faith.

“During the eighties and nineties, nothing was going on and OCR declared them [the states] in compliance,” he said.

“Unless there is a federal presence forcing things, we’ll go
through another twenty five years of litigation just to prove what we
already know,” said Thompson,

Kronley said that while the report was aimed at state
responsibilities, it’s important for everyone to be a part of the

“From the governor on down to the private sector and the business sector, this all of us,” he said.

Kronley noted, however, that in drafting the report, the foundation was careful not to point any fingers.

“This is much too complicated to say that this is your fault or
this is their fault,” he said. “The report is very clear that there are
some promising practices in many states. What needs to be done next is
to elevate those practices.”

And elevate people to action, said Brown.

“This should be a wake-up call. It tells it like it is. Now we have to deal with it,” he said.

RELATED ARTICLE: Picture Painted by SEF Not Completely Dismal

WASHINGTON — While the Southern Education Foundation (SEF)
reported last month that Blacks have made few gains in access to public
institutions of higher education in the South, many scholars said they
took the report with a grain of salt.

The grim statistics presented in Miles To Go — the foundation’s
latest assessment of the desegregation efforts in the nineteen states
that operated under dual systems of education — are indeed alarming,
said many research analysts. But other statistics points to a much
brighter picture.

For example, national enrollment percentages for Black students at
public Institutions are on the rise, said Dr. N Joyce Payne, director
of advancement and Public Black colleges for the National Association
of State Universities and Land-Grant colleges.

According to recent study done by the Association of enrollment
trends from fall 1990 to fall 1996, more Black students are attending
public four-year institutions. Nationally, there was a 17 percent
increase in all Black students attending public four-year schools, and
20 percent increase in Black females.

Payne also said that the number of minority students who are
graduating from high school is one on the rise, which will presumably
increase enrollment figures at colleges and universities in the near

Many also pointed to the fact that the average age of college
students is increasing — a fact that, if accounted for, could skew the
foundation’s study. According to the National Center for Education
Statistics, nearly 20 percent of all undergraduates were over 24 years
old in 1995. Many suspect that percentage is higher for Black students.
Miles To Go compared to percentage of Black college students with the
percentage of Black eighteen-to-twenty-four-years-olds in the Black

Additionally, looking at the bigger picture of enrollment trends in
those nineteen states states requires taking the private institutions
into account, said Dr. Michael Nettles, of the Frederick Patterson
Research Institute, the research arm of the College Fund/UNCF.

“The privates represent 40 percent of colleges in the South and 30
percent of Black students go to private institutions,” he said.

Additionally, he pointed out that while the foundation doesn’t
emphasize it, SEF’s figures show that more Black students are at the
traditionally White institutions than the historically Black ones.
According to the SEF report, 34.4 percent of Black freshman were at
traditionally White institutions in 1996 and 26.5 percent were at
historically Black schools.

Nettles added that the foundation did a comprehensive study of the
public institutions in the South, but stressed that the research
shouldn’t stop there.

“The same kind of issues that SEF is raising on publics, we should also raise on privates and nationally,” he said.

RELATED ARTICLE: Community Colleges Respond

WASHINGTON — Community college hold strong as a postsecondary
access point for African American students according to Miles To Go,
the Southern Education Foundation’s report on the status of minority
education in the South.

Regionally, the report found that 39 percent of Black students in
the public institutions in the nineteen southern states studied were at
community colleges. In Mississippi, 61.2 percent of Blacks in higher
education are at community colleges. In Alabama, the number is 51.3

However, Dr. Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst for the
U.S. Department of Education, said the foundation’s report is
misleading because the study didn’t take into account all the Black
students attending private historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs) in the South. Without them, he said, the report paints a
picture that Black students go to community colleges at inordinately
high rates.

“Black students are no more likely to go to community college than
White kids. In fact, in the South they are less likely,” he said. “And
when you factor in all the Black students at private HBCUs in the
South, you get that perspective,”.

And anyway, said Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of Northern Virginia
Community College, it’s not such bad thing when students go to a
two-year school.

“We are the college of choice when [Black students] can’t get into
four-year schools,” she said. “They’re still being productive, and
they’ll be able to get into the job market.”

Dr. Jacquelyn M. Belcher, president of Georgia Perimeter College in
Decatur, said it’s encouraging to see Black at two-year institutions —
especially in light of figures showing a deline in the African American
baccalaureate completion rate.

“How many finish a four-year degree?” she asks parents who tell her
they’re disappointed their child is at a two-year school. “Wouldn’t you
want them to have something?”

Wheelan said the higher education community traditionally has
viewed two-year institutions as lesser schools, but people wouldn’t
think that community colleges provide insufficient training for African
American students.

“One thing people don’t understand is that most of the jobs
available do not demand a four-year degree,” she said. “Many African
American students want to get a good job. They can do that by going to
a community college.”

Adelman added that the foundation, which appears to be dismissive
of two-year colleges at some points in the report, does the public a
disservice by not encouraging the community college movement.

“They beat up a community colleges just at a point when community
colleges are offering the best opportunities,” he said. “They implied
that they are no-good places where Black kids get stuck. There are a
lot of good community colleges in those nineteen states training
students in the fastest-growing occupation for good jobs with good

“That’s pretty irresponsible,” he continued. “Just at the moment
when North Carolina drops tuition at the two-year schools, just at the
moment when community colleges are training people in some of the
hottest professions, we’re gonna tell Black kids not to go. That’s
typical White man’s arrogance. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing to
Black kids for years.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Family Income and College Tuition in the South, 1995

Average Tuition at
Four-Year Average of Black
State Public Institutions Family Income

Alabama $2,120 $19,786
Arkansas 1,958 16,663
Delaware 3,268 27,123
Florida 1,772 25,742
Georgia 2,148 27,201
Kentucky 2,218 20,653
Louisiana 2,038 19,656
Maryland 3,181 28,602
Mississippi 2,410 18,792
Missouri 2,637 19,384
North Carolina 1,502 22,789
Ohio 3,232 23,262
Oklahoma 1,881 20,923
Pennyslvania 4,846 23,679
South Carolina 2,996 26,921
Tennessee 1,987 23,096
Texas 1,910 25,633
Virginia 3,921 28,565
West Virginia 2,020 23,058

Percent of Black Average White
State Family Income Family Income

Alabama 10.7% $37,040
Arkansas 11.8% 31,571
Delaware 12.0% 41,376
Florida 6.9% 37,173
Georgia 7.9% 39,720
Kentucky 10.7% 33,019
Louisiana 10.4% 35,991
Maryland 11.1% 45,732
Mississippi 12.8% 33,982
Missouri 13.6% 33,799
North Carolina 6.6% 38,239
Ohio 13.9% 38,051
Oklahoma 9.0% 34,887
Pennyslvania 20.5% 38,391
South Carolina 11.1% 39,442
Tennessee 8.6% 35,445
Texas 7.5% 42,161
Virginia 13.7% 43,854
West Virginia 8.8% 27,937

Percent of White
State Family Income

Alabama 5.7%
Arkansas 6.2%
Delaware 7.9%
Florida 4.8%
Georgia 5.4%
Kentucky 6.7%
Louisiana 5.7%
Maryland 7.0%
Mississippi 7.1%
Missouri 7.8%
North Carolina 3.9%
Ohio 8.5%
Oklahoma 5.4%
Pennsylvania 12.6%
South Carolina 7.6%
Tennessee 5.6%
Texas 4.5%
Virginia 8.9%
West Virginia 7.2%

Source: Southern Educational Foundation, based on data from the
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Current Population
Survey, 1995

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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