Panel Offers Diversity Goals For Texas HBCUs

 Panel Offers Diversity Goals For Texas HBCUs

Austin, Texas — A Texas panel has recommended ways for the state’s two historically Black public universities to erase findings by federal officials that traces of segregation linger in Texas higher education.
Called “Priority Plan 2000,” the panel capped six months of talks by suggesting that Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M universities strive for a set of goals including things as basic as “focusing on student academic success” and “providing scholarships, endowing chairs and providing competitive compensation.”
The panel suggested improvements in funding, administration, programs and facilities at both universities.
Panel chairman Jodie Jiles says the recommendations also call for state education leaders and elected officials to pitch in, and for the administrators, faculty and staff of majority-White universities to help in a mentoring capacity.
“We have learned that just creating programs and authorizing money for buildings is not the solution,” Jiles says, referring to previous policies. “A comprehensive plan with adequate resources to properly support these programs and facilities is vital to the success and growth of these universities. In the past, all we have gotten is reports back after allocating some money. This time, we are going to actually collaborate.”
Jiles also is a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees state-supported institutions. Among other things, the regulatory board approves academic degrees and campus building construction, as well as developing policies to carry out laws affecting higher education.
“These recommendations let both institutions know the direction they should be heading,” Jiles says.
Neither of the college presidents could be reached for comment.
But three Black lawmakers say they remain “cautiously optimistic about the course the committee has charted.”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, state Sen. Rodney Ellis and Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman have taken various roles in the past to help both schools — especially Texas Southern, which has faced political and financial turmoil in recent years.
“We appreciated the hard work of the committee on this challenging issue,” the three Houston Democrats said in a statement issued jointly. “But, given our history of big plans and broken promises when it comes to issues of discrimination, we are rightly skeptical about whether we will ever see results. We can no longer quietly accept broken promises on this issue.”
The panel’s recommendations are one result of a deal struck last year among the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the Coordinating Board and state Gov. George W. Bush. Texas, which has relied on several state-approved desegregation plans, is one of the few states where federal officials are still monitoring progress in eliminating discrimination from higher education. The effort is part of the state’s enforcement of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination in federally funded schools.
Last year, federal officials announced that Texas might be unintentionally promoting segregation because White students lacked academic reasons to attend Texas Southern in inner-city Houston, or Prairie View, in its namesake town northwest of Houston. Officials say they found “unnecessary duplication” of academic courses between Texas Southern and the University of Houston — which is barely a mile away — as well as between Prairie View and neighboring Texas A&M University.
Though the finding initially caused a stir on the campuses, officials never ordered Prairie View or Texas Southern to abandon their special missions to educate Blacks. Of Texas Southern’s 6,500 students, 84 percent are African American. Of Prairie View’s 5,900 students, 88 percent are African American. Overall, Blacks make up only 3 percent of the more than 396,000 students enrolled at Texas’ public universities, but 32 percent of those Blacks attend historically Black colleges.
Meanwhile, majority White colleges, public and private combined,  enroll 99 percent of Texas’ White students, while Blacks make up less than 5 percent overall.
 “There should be no exclusionary language that discourages any Texan from taking advantage of the excellent educational opportunities,” panel members said in the recommendation list.
The committee outlined several goals for the two universities. Among them:
nProviding scholarships, endowed chairs and competitive compensation that attract and retain top quality students, staff and faculty.
nEnsuring that students learn technology applications in their academic fields.
nIncrease fund-raising.
nBoosting enrollment numbers to more than 10,000 each.
Former Prairie View president Julius Becton, who served during the early 1990s, says the list is “nice, and better than having no list at all,” but he says he doubts whether it has much punch.
“Will it produce a better student in the classroom?” wonders Becton, a member of the oversight committee in the Knight vs. Alabama federal desegregation case. “Will it inspire families? Will it inspire the staffs at the two schools? Will it inspire the people sending their kids to the two schools? I just don’t know.”
Becton also questions whether the campuses could accommodate a doubling of enrollments. But Jiles, the panel chairman and a 1974 Texas Southern graduate, says he and his colleagues believe so.  Jiles says the list of goals spells out things that never were in previous desegregation plans.
For example, specific recommendations for Prairie View included:
nCreating a “university college” to increase retention and graduation. The 1998 graduation rate was 25.9 percent, while retention of first-time, full-time freshmen was 63 percent.
nConstructing new buildings for Prairie View’s nursing, architecture and juvenile justice programs.
nDeveloping new degreed programs in electrical engineering, construction science, interior design and juvenile forensic psychology.
Recommendations for Texas Southern were more extensive and took into account the school’s political and financial struggles in recent years. During the 1999 Texas legislative session, regents and then-interim president Dr. Priscilla Slade held off lawmakers who were considering moving the free-standing Texas Southern into a university system. Slade has since been hired as president.
The litany of suggestions included:
nContinuing to meet all recommendations from the Texas state auditor’s office and the comptroller of public accounts so that all fiscal and management operations run smoothly. For years, slipshod bookkeeping and accounting practices plagued the university. Last year, Slade and her staff quickly revised practices to satisfy state officials’ demands.
nEstablishing an institutional development office to increase fund-raising. A state report last year determined that the university’s more than 30,000 alumni give an average of only $2 per person a year.
nIncreasing enrollment. Between 1993 and 1998, enrollment plummeted 40 percent. During this time, Education Department officials determined that university staff members were approving financial aid applications for students even though they did not show their qualifications. To rectify that, the Education Department required for the past four years that university officials dole financial aid up front, then file for reimbursement. This requirement has been dropped, but university officials have cracked down on students and they contend that enrollment dropped because students no longer receiving federal financial aid simply didn’t enroll.
nEstablishing a summer and first-year support program for incoming freshmen. In 1998, the university’s six-year graduation rate was 10.6 percent. Its retention rate for first-time, full-time freshmen was 48.2 percent.
n Building more student housing. Of the 6,500 students enrolled last fall, only 850 could be accommodated on campus. Increased housing could improve student retention and graduation rates, panel members say.
nConstructing a new science building.
nStrengthening programs in law, pharmacy, business and educator preparation. Texas Southern produces significant numbers of African American lawyers, teachers, business leaders and pharmacists in Texas and the rest of the country. To strengthen the programs, panel members say university officials should modernize and upgrade curricula, equipment and laboratories, as well as hire more faculty.
nPlanning new degree programs in entrepreneurship, computer science, environmental law and justice, biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences and health-care administration.
nEstablishing a child-care center on campus to meet needs of faculty and nontraditional students.
State education leaders are still figuring the costs, but early estimates are that they could run to $60 million for each university over a six-year state spending cycle.
Federal officials have not fully reviewed the Texas panel’s recommendations, but “do hope to reach an agreement with Texas soon,” says Raymond Pierce, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights.
The Black lawmakers, however, called the plan “a modest start” toward improving Prairie View and Texas Southern.
“It is a rather modest down payment to solve such a major historical problem,” Jackson Lee, Ellis and Coleman said in their joint statement. “Remember, this is the fourth plan drafted in the past 20 years to address vestiges of discrimination in Texas higher education. We have not seen much progress over the years, so it is hard to get too excited about yet another plan. Because of the track record, we believe prudence demands our skepticism.”
Coordinating Board leaders appointed a special panel to review the civil rights office’s concerns about university mission, land grant status, academic program duplication, facilities, funding and equality of access to educational opportunities at the two schools. The 19 panel members, including Jiles, were chosen from among the Coordinating Board members, university regents and trustees, college administrators and community leaders.
The state Coordinating Board will vote on the proposals in October. Their vote becomes a recommendation to Texas lawmakers, who will decide on the funding and what to implement when they convene in January for their biennial sessions.              



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