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Living in The Best and Worst of Times

Living in The Best and Worst of Times

Crisesremindusthatnothinginthislifeispromised. Last month, nearly 400 historically Black college administrators and federal officials convened in Washington for the second White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges conference. As always, President Clinton commemorated the event by declaring the week of Sept. 19-25 “Historically Black College Week,” inviting the nation to acknowledge the contribution these institutions have made to the nation. And five federal agencies gave out $72.9 million in awards to the 78 HBCUs represented at the conference .
Then on day three, nearly 1,000 miles south, a bomb exploded at Florida A&M University. It was the second such incident in recent weeks to occur on that campus, which is the nation’s leading producer of Black undergraduates. Fortunately, no one was injured in either bombing and a suspect has been arrested, but the hate crimes have changed that esteemed historically Black institution forever. It is a sobering reminder that even while African Americans are making significant strides in postsecondary education, there are those who would dare to sabotage this progress.
In this year’s “Recruitment and Retention” special report, we explore how the changing political environment also is changing Black life in higher education.
In our lead story , Robin Bennefield explores how diversity on some campuses is in jeopardy, as some trustees and administrators are exploiting their colleagues’ fears of lawsuits and public censure by demanding a rollback of affirmative action even though no real threat exists. The University of Virginia’s recent decision to end race-sensitive admissions is particularly disturbing, since that school has the strongest African American enrollment and retention record of any traditionally White public institution in the country.
In her story about the new admissions realities facing middle-class Black students, Michele Collison exposes an emerging trend at selective public institutions that is leaving many of these students on the outside looking in. The story includes tips on what parents can do to make sure their kids aren’t among those who don’t make the cut.
In recent weeks, the Education Testing Service has attracted a lot of attention with its “strivers” model for identifying talented students of color who might otherwise be missed by race-blind admissions. Guest contributor Kenneth J. Cooper surveys admissions officers for their take on the strategy, asking them to compare it to another new model known as the “merit index” and to remark on the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Amid the cacophony over admissions, Ronald Roach checks the pulse of retention. It’s still beating, with a few new strategies in the pipeline. Yet, some experts say overall, these efforts may not be garnering the institutional commitment they deserve.
Finally our cover story, by Eleanor Lee Yates, looks at how Baltimore City Community College is attacking the recruitment and retention problem at one of its roots, literacy.
Over the course of her long life, washerwoman turned philanthropist Osceola McCarty learned from experience that circumstances of birth can blunt one’s life options unless the door of education creates a way out. Her legacy should remind us  that, irrespective of our socioeconomic status, we can and should commit our lives to making the world a better place than it was when we entered.

Cheryl D. Fields
Executive Editor

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