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Educators Explore Best Practices In Black Student Achievement

Educators Explore Best Practices In Black Student Achievement


As academicians anxiously await the outcome of the University of Michigan case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and what will be a precedent setting decision for higher education admissions procedures, more than 200 academic professionals, admissions officers and diversity advocates from around the nation gathered at a recent conference on best practices in Black student achievement.

Sponsored by Clemson University’s office of the president and provost, the conference focused on practices and ways to legally continue the commitment to diversity and help minority students qualify for admission as well as succeed at our nation’s colleges and universities. The program coincided with Clemson’s 40th anniversary commemoration of the desegregation of higher education in South Carolina, which was marked by the enrollment of Clemson’s first African American student, Harvey Gantt, in 1963.

Among the conference presenters were admissions officers from the universities of Texas, Georgia and Michigan, all who recently have faced high-profile litigation surrounding their admissions policies. Other distinguished education leaders and keynote speakers included Dr. William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; Dr. John Brooks Slaughter, president and CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Inc. (NACME); Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County; and Dr. Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, an advocate of equal educational opportunity for low-income and disabled Americans.

Dr. Bruce Walker, director of admissions and associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and Nancy McDuff, director of admissions at the University of Georgia, both said their institutions experienced a drop in the number of Black students and those from other minority groups in the years immediately following lawsuits that prevented them from using the Bakke model, which allowed for the use of race as one factor in admissions decisions.

But most recently, they have seen their enrollment of African Americans and Hispanics return to previous levels through the use of practices that they shared with conference attendees. However, in order for such practices to work, an institution’s commitment to diversity goals must come from the top down and from the bottom up, they said. At Texas, for instance, the president of the university leads the recruitment effort by visiting targeted Black and Hispanic high schools to encourage students to apply and enroll.

Walker also talked about the implementation of the 10 percent plan in Texas, which guarantees admission to any state university for all students in the top 10 percent of their high-school class. “While the plan does ensure that you have eligible students to choose from, those students may not enroll in your institution. You have got to do things to enhance it,” Walker says.

Some of the other practices discussed included using more aggressive recruitment techniques, forming task forces, creating pre-college programs, using targeted communications/marketing, visiting schools, letting students know what they need to do to qualify, using current students and alumni to recruit and providing incentives such as school-based scholarships. None of these activities was limited to minority students, presenters said.

Arthur Coleman, a Washington attorney who focuses his practice on preventive law to help states, school districts and universities understand how to structure programs to best serve their education goals, put what “best practices” really means into legal context for the conference participants.

“It’s no longer about affirmative action but about an institution’s right to pursue its educational goals. In doing that can Bakke and diversity practices be a compelling interest and can they stand up to 14th Amendment scrutiny?” Coleman asked.

Institutions will need to think outside the box, he said.

— By Joan Morgan

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