Report: Kentucky Schools Need to Help Minorities

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

The state has made strides in increasing access to higher education for minorities, but major work still needs to be done, according to a report commissioned by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

The 156-page report by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA says the preparation of Black and White students for college remains highly unequal.

The report recommends considering race for admission to competitive campuses like the University of Kentucky and Louisville. It also says the state should expand its definition of diversity to include Hispanics and American Indians.

The report also suggests the state focus on helping students from poor counties in eastern Kentucky regardless of race.

“It is no longer sufficient to focus only on Black students,” the report states.

There are still “massive leaks” in the education system, though the schools themselves are hardly to blame, the report states.

“It is obvious that Kentucky’s problems are not just problems of the campuses and that a broader commitment from state and local institutions would greatly help reach the goals,” it says.

The report is part of data being collected by the council’s Committee on Equal Opportunity and university presidents in creating a new diversity plan for the state. The plan will replace a 1999 agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. That agreement asked the state to increase the number of Black students, faculty members and administrators at public colleges and universities.

The report also takes the state to task for funding at historically Black Kentucky State University, saying it should work with the school to create “consistent funding, a strong board of regents and a clear structure to assure progress.”

Kentucky State University President Mary Evans Sias said she would like to have more money in the budget, but balked at the report’s assertion that the school lacks a clear mission.

“I think we are well on the march to getting to where we need to be,” she told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. “We are clearly three things. We are a public liberal arts university. We are historically Black, and we are a land grant institution.”

The state did receive high marks for increasing access to higher education for minorities. Enrollment of in-state African-Americans increased from 7 percent to more than 8 percent in 2006.

Western Kentucky University president Gary Ransdell said that some of the report had merit, but that he wasn’t so sure about other parts of it including expanding the focus of diversity.

“We shouldn’t dilute or shift the focus from the African-American responsibility we all share,” he told the Louisville newspaper.

That focus extends beyond the classroom and into the boardroom. The report said there should be higher representation among minorities on university governing boards. Only 18 of the 120 seats on those boards are filled by minorities.

The problem extends beyond four-year schools to community colleges. The report says the two entities are not working together to make it easier for students to transfer.

“(The process) is functioning very poorly and is a basic threat to the state’s educational goals,” the report says.

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