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Competing On an Uneven Field, Still

Competing On an Uneven Field, Still

Recently, a friend sent me an e-mail that opened with the following anonymous quote: “Those who think the playing field is level usually have box seats.” As I reviewed the statistical results of this year’s Top 100 undergraduate degree report, that quote echoed through my head.
Black Issues has been producing the Top 100 for nearly a decade. In that time, we’ve observed the emergence of many positive trends in higher education. We’ve watched schools proudly brag about being top among their peer institutions in the production of under-represented students of color. We’ve seen institutions compete with each other in their quest to become No. 1 in various degree categories. Those of us at the magazine who have the arduous task of making this report possible are inspired by such enthusiastic outcomes.
Still, it is disheartening to release these numbers every year only to see such slow progress. It is even worse to watch the minority presence decline in some fields, or to realize that without historically Black colleges, African Americans would be considerably worse off in higher education.
As encouraging as the good news is in this year’s Top 100 Special Report  (see pg. 44), the bad news suggests that the progress people of color are making is fragile at best.
Latinos, for example, show a surprising decline this year. This drop is especially disturbing when you consider that the number of Latino students entering college has increased steadily for the past decade.
African Americans, meanwhile, still are not earning degrees at the rate they did more than 20 years ago. Overall, students of color are acquiring degrees at a growing rate, but their percentages remain woefully disproportionate to their overall status in the nation’s population.
In the face of such evidence, it dismays me that there are those in our midst who believe that attending to the particular needs of any racial or ethnic student group is not only unnecessary, but unfair to White students.
Obviously, many of the folks who subscribe to such a belief — including a growing number of people of color — suffer from box-seat syndrome. From where I and many others sit, demanding that higher education address the special problems of our nation’s various racial groups is not an injustice to White students. It is in our collective best interest as a nation. Yet, as Lydia Lum’s story about the goings-on in Texas illustrates (see pg. 22), when it comes to racial equity in higher education, getting folks to comply with what is in the nation’s best interest is no easy task.
We, at Black Issues, believe that it is possible to achieve a level playing field in postsecondary education. For this reason, we remain committed to shining the media spotlight on higher education’s racial progress. We hope the information presented in this year’s Top 100 will motivate those of you who are fighting the good fight to persevere. We also hope it will embarrass those schools that are showing little or no progress in their production of under-represented students into doing something to improve their numbers.
Despite the resistance of our box-seat brethren, higher education must rededicate itself to not only fixing its warped playing field, but to rebuilding the entire stadium. Only then, will the players and spectators — both courtside and those seated near the rafters — agree that the game is fair.

Cheryl D. Fields

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