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Blacks in College: Further Declines Seen

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Unless states act quickly to reverse current trends, the downward drift in the number and proportion of black students on college and university campuses will continue into the next decade, warns a new report by the Southern Regional Education Board.

The 1980's are "developing into a period of stable or declining numbers and proportions of black students in colleges and universities," said Joseph L. Marks, a research associate at sreb and author of the report, "The Enrollment of Black Students in Higher Education: Can Declines Be Prevented?" The report analyzes recent research findings and census data.

While enrollments of black students in higher-education institutions more than doubled from the mid-1960's to the mid-1970's, the growth rate "unexpectedly began to decline" in 1976, the report states. Between 1976 and 1982, black college enrollment grew by only 6.7 percent.

"By 1982, growth was at a virtual standstill," the report states. Similarly, the proportion of overall college enrollment that was black fell from a record high of 9.3 percent by 1976 to 8.8 percent in 1982. (See Education Week, April 17, 1985.)

This trend will continue, Mr. Marks said, unless state leaders act to ensure that black students are academically prepared for college and informed about financial-aid options.

A Shrinking Pool

The report notes that while the numbers of both black and white young people of school age continue to decline, the proportion of black students in the nation's schools is growing.

"There is a feeling that the great growth rates [in enrollment of black college students] should have continued," Mr. Marks said last week. "But that is difficult if you have fewer people to form the college-eligible pool."

The only way to increase this pool of young black students, Mr. Marks argues in the report, "is to raise the percentage of those who attend, and graduate from, high school."

While this percentage has increased, the report states, a gap remains between the graduation rates of blacks and whites. For instance, only 58 percent of the 18- to 19-year-old black population had graduated from high school in 1982, compared with 75 percent of whites in the same age group.

Studies have also shown "a persistent gap between the academic preparation and performance levels of black and white students," the re-port states. A greater proportion of white students is enrolled in academic programs, for example, while blacks enroll in vocational-technical programs at a higher rate than whites.

Recent studies also showed that half of white seniors had taken three or more years of mathematics, compared with 39 percent of black seniors, and that more than 33 percent of the whites had taken more than three years of science, compared with 23 percent of blacks.

The report also notes recent test results indicating that the average reading proficiency of 17-year-old black students was equivalent to that of 13-year-old white students, and that only 20 percent of black 11th-grade students—compared with more than 50 percent of white 11th graders—read well enough to do college-level work.

'Important Target'

These differences in preparation and achievement between black and white students "define a most important target for attention from state leaders," the report states.

"Through efforts to improve the academic preparation, involvement, and achievement of black students," it argues, "the goal of increasing the enrollment and graduation rates of black students and the goal of upgrading the quality of higher education can be achieved without sacrifice to either."

Several states are developing or implementing programs to identify and assist high-school students whose academic skills are not ade-quate for college-level work, according to the sreb

Lawmakers in Louisiana, for example, have authorized a program to identify and assist college-bound students who lack adequate academic preparation, beginning in May 1987.

State Efforts

In Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina, lawmakers have required colleges and universities to file reports to high schools on the college performance of each school's graduates.

And in Ohio, high-school juniors may take part in a statewide testing program that identifies deficiencies in mathematics. Students may take special courses to improve their skills.

More Federal Aid

Because the availability of financial aid often determines whether a black student decides to go to college, the report urges state leaders to advocate increased support for federal aid for minority students. In recent years, the report notes, federal financial aid has been "spread thinner" among more students and has lost some buying power as a result of inflation.

In addition, the report suggests that states expand their own student-aid programs, consider tuition-reduction plans, and take steps to make black students aware of available aid and how to apply for it.

A copy of the report is available for $4 from sreb, 1340 Spring St., N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30309.

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