Good News Doesn’t Close Gaps

Good News Doesn’t Close Gaps

Four gaps define the African American economic experience for me — the income gap, the Digital Divide (or access gap), the credit gap and the education gap.
In terms of the income gap, African Americans still earn a fraction of what Whites earn. While that fraction is larger with education, the gap is still deep and wide.
The Digital Divide is a technology gulf that curtails the access African Americans have to a range of electronic information and opportunities.
The credit gap is less frequently discussed, but it is tandem to the Digital Divide. African Americans without credit cards can only partly participate in the technology revolution because they do not have access to discounted goods and services that are offered on the Internet. To the extent that municipalities offer services such as driver’s license renewals on the Internet, the Digital Divide and the credit divide contribute to the further bifurcation of our society.
One of the most important gaps is the education gap, which hits Black folks at every level from kindergarten to higher education. Gaps abound in terms of enrollment, spending, quality and completion, and many of them are structural and societal.
Given the gaps, I was excited to read some good news on the education front from a recent U.S. Department of Education publication. To be sure, the publication seemed to be most interested in highlighting education gains in the Clinton-Gore years. At the same time, the fact that the percentage of high school graduates going straight to college is at an all-time high of 68 percent was good news. The fact that 47 percent of low-income high school graduates went immediately to college was good news. That 55 percent of Black high school graduates went straight to college was good news, as was the fact the majority of Hispanic high school graduates under 29 have some college experience.
According to the Department of Education, “Increasing enrollments and greater diversity in the nation’s colleges and universities, even as the cost of higher education has gone up, reflect seven years of efforts by this Administration to make higher education more accessible and affordable for all students. Greater availability of need-based grants, low-interest student loans and work-study and national service programs have opened the doors of higher education to millions of students who otherwise could not afford it. Since the average cost of attending a public four-year institution amounts to 60 percent of the average income of families in the bottom fifth of the economic strata, the record-setting percentage of low-income high school graduates enrolling in college is strong testimony that the Administration’s efforts are paying off.”
I am prepared to celebrate this good news. But I am also prepared to say the Administration’s efforts, while laudable, fall short of the mark. African Americans are always put in the position of viewing the glass as half full or half empty, of muting celebration of good news because even good news still leaves us in a subordinate position, with gaps still defining our educational
realities.
The extent to which we are pushed to the periphery is made all the more clear when issues of the technology revolution and the Digital Divide come up, especially when we view technology in an international context.
In other words, while we decry the Digital Divide in the United States, in recent G8 economic meetings, the focus was on the international Digital Divide, and the fact that poor countries have few opportunities to use the new technology to their benefit.
While Western countries and the Pacific Rim are in the center of the digital storm, poor developing countries are too busy worrying about water and food to deal with technology.  Daily, they fall behind, and the gulf between them and their developed partners widens.  Good news alone can’t close that gap.
Still, historically Black colleges and universities are focused on closing the technology gap, partly by increasing the numbers of computer science and engineering bachelor’s degree graduates.  Speaking at this summer’s Nissan HBCU Summer Institute, held at Xavier University in New Orleans, Xavier’s president Dr. Norman Francis talked about this effort to close the gap. “Recently released numbers from the U.S. Department of Education show HBCUs have consistently increased the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the fields of computer science and engineering from 1993-1997,” he said. “This is at a time when traditional universities are seeing a decrease in graduates from these same fields.”  
The Nissan program provides HBCU faculty with professional development opportunities that allow them to enhance their teaching and to stay current in fields that are rapidly changing. Since 1989, more than 345 faculty members have attended the Nissan program. Their participation has enhanced the educational experience of thousands of HBCU graduates in high-tech fields.
That’s more good news; news that helps to close the many gaps faced by African Americans in education and technology.  As long as the pace of change is more rapid than the flow of good news, though, the gaps continue to grow. Despite progress, our communities continue to trail behind, both in the United States and in the world. 



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