Judge to Mississippi: monitor minority freshman enrollment

JACKSON, Miss.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. has directed
the state College Board to monitor decreasing freshman enrollment at
Mississippi’s historically Black institutions [HBCUs). In the past
couple of years, there has been a noticeable decrease in freshmen at
Jackson State. Alcorn State, and Mississippi Valley State universities,
figures show. And while overall Black enrollment is up 7.3 percent at
the state’s eight universities since Biggers ordered new admission
standards in 1995, the freshman enrollment to decrease.

“The board is directed to continue monitoring the various elements
that affect freshman enrollment and advise the court of its findings,”
Biggers wrote in his four-page order last month.

“I’m delighted that they are going to be looking closely at this.”
said Robert A. Kronley, senior consultant to the Southern Education
Foundation. “We said before that the combination of new admission
standards and the abolition of remediation — and the way its been
done, the fast implementation of it — threatened access for Black
students and the current numbers prove that.”

The president of one of the schools to be monitored agreed with
Kronley’s assessment and said the decreases were to be expected, given
the new admissions requirements put in place by the courts. And
besides, he said, his institution has been monitoring its enrollment,
retention, and graduation rates all along.

“Certainly I don’t have any problem with them monitoring us. We do
that all the time, anyway. We monitor by sex, age, test scores,
everything,” said Mississippi Valley State President Dr. William W.
Sutton, who added, “He [Biggers] just wants that [monitoring data]
before the courts so that it appears like they are doing something.”

College Board members say the decline of freshmen at Jackson State,
Mississippi Valley State, and Alcorn State is a legitimate concern.

Jackson State’s Black freshmen enrollment fell from 1,102 in
1995-96, to 844 in 1996-97, to 755 in 1997-98. It is the lowest total
for the university over a twelve-year period and well below the peak of
1,289 freshmen in 1990-91.

Black freshmen enrollment at Alcorn dwindled from 700 in 1995-96 to
625 in 1996-97 to 512 this past academic year. At Mississippi Valley
State, enrollment fell from 444 students in 1995-96, to 328 in 1996-97,
to 299 this past year.

“Freshmen are the lifeblood of an institution,” said board member
James Luvene of Holly Springs. “Long range, it has to scare us. It’s
got to be a concern of the board.”

Luvene, however, said news that the number of Black students has
been rising in recent years at Mississippi’s five majority White
universities is encouraging.

The increase in minority presence at Mississippi’s traditionally
White campuses notwithstanding, Alvin Chambliss Jr., a lawyer for the
plaintiffs in the Ayers v. Fordice lawsuit, said the drop in enrollment
comes on the heels of the new admission standards.

Ayers v. Fordice is the legal battle that has consumed the
Mississippi higher education system since 1975, when the late Jake
Ayers Sr. sued the state, accusing Mississippi of neglecting its
historically Black universities for decades.

Sutton agreed with Chambliss, adding that the drop in Black
freshman enrollment at the state’s HBCUs is the result of several
things — not the least of which is the new admissions test requirement.

“If you increase the ACT score needed by Black kids for admission, the enrollment drops,” said Sutton

“Many of the kids … didn’t take the core requirements in high
school,” he pointed out. “Now [in order to gain admission to college],
you need those requirements and a certain GPA and the necessary ACT
score. That combination makes for a more complicated admissions
requirement and is another hurdle for poor and undereducated people.”

The higher standards began in the 1996-07 academic year. Students
unable to meet those standards can be admitted if they pass a summer
remedial program. Sutton said that the summer program doesn’t really
alleviate the declining-freshman-enrollment situation.

“It’s another hurdle for Black people. The summer program can be an
additional hardship for Black kids.” he said. “Why would they want to
have to take a summer program to go to school when they can get into
someplace else without it?”

However, to offset the declining enrollment, Mississippi Valley
State is encouraging “more of our young people to come to the summer
program.” Sutton said.

Additionally, the university is encouraging prospective students whom it is not able to accept to attend community colleges.

“We are working with the community colleges, particularly Coahoma
and Hinds community colleges.” said Sutton. “We are encouraging
students to take at least twenty-four hours of credit at a community
and then we can look at them again.”

According to Kronley, the numbers for Black freshman enrollment are
worse now than they were the year after the Ayers case was first filed.

Although Black freshman enrollment is declining, the state’s HBCUs
have seen a slight increase in White students stemming from the Ayers
desegregation case. There were 355 White students at Jackson State,
Alcorn State, and Mississippi Valley State universities in fall 1997
compared to 308 in fall 1996, reports show.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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