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Ford and Carter To Head Panel On Minorities

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Washington--Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford will head a blue-ribbon panel charged with issuing a "clarion call" to the nation on the need to reverse lagging minority participation in higher education and other sectors of society, officials of two leading education groups said last week.

The 34-member commission--which also includes former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, three former U.S. secretaries of state, four governors, and other national leaders from a variety of fields--will recommend ways government, business, and education can improve opportunities for members of minority groups.

The effort is essential, officials of the American Council on Education and the Education Commission of the States said in announcing their joint sponsorship of the commission, because minorities are expected to constitute one-third of the nation's population by the turn of the century.

"This third must be fully participating" in all sectors of society, said Robert H. Atwell, president of the ACE "If they are not, we will all suffer."

"To continue to drift on the current course not only will defer the American dream of a just and equitable society; it will signal the end of that dream," he said.

"We are now deep in the battle over making America a competitive society," added Frank Newman, president of the ESC.

"How on earth can we do it if we keep X-ing out a bigger and bigger part of society?"

The work of the commission, whose creation was announced here at the annual meeting of the ACE, will be financed by a $50,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Its report, titled "One Third of a Nation: Minorities in the United States," is expected to be released in late March or early April.

Following the release of the report, the ACE will distribute to all college presidents a handbook outlining strategies for enhancing minority recruitment and retention.

Preparation or 'Access'?

The establishment of the commission comes at a time when a "convergence" of social, political, and economic factors has brought the issue of declining minority college enrollment to the forefront, according to Mr. Newman.

Despite an increase in the number of blacks graduating from high school between 1976 and 1985, the proportion of black students entering college declined by a fourth, to 26.1 percent, during the same period, according to the ACE.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, in a speech at the group's annual meeting, attributed the decline in minority enrollment to the poor preparation black students receive at the precollegiate level, rather than to a lack of "access" to higher education. "If you hold the achievement levels of black students and white students constant, black students are more likely to go to college," he said. "The problem is, there are too many low-performing black students."

"I would never accuse administrators of higher education of bad faith on" the question of access, he continued. "The problem is enlarging the pool."

"I would hope this is the major thrust" of the commission's efforts, he said.

But college officials, while acknowledging that many students lack sufficient preparation for college-level work, said access to higher education also must be improved.

Colleges' Efforts

"If we ignore the issue, we condemn a generation of kids who have come out of inferior settings who do have the potential for success," said Reginald Wilson, director of the ACE's office of minority concerns.

The federal government could improve minority students' chances of pursuing college study by increasing the amount of student financial aid available, Mr. Atwell said.

But colleges and universities must also take the lead in reversing the decline in minority enrollments, he added, suggesting that leaders in higher education renew their efforts to boost minority recruitment and retention on their own campuses.

They should also take steps to improve teacher-training programs and work with local school systems to improve precollegiate education, he said.

"It is all of society's responsibility, and especially higher education's, to reach minority children early enough, before they feel trapped by their poverty and the low aspirations they see all around them,'' he said.

In addition to Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford, other members of the commission include:

Gov. John A. Ashcroft of Missouri; Mr. Bell; Thornton Bradshaw, director, General Electric Company; Alice Chandler, president, State University of New York at New Paltz; Mayor Henry Cisneros of San Antonio; Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas; William G. Demmert, commissioner of education, Alaska; Edward Donley, chairman, Air Products and Chemicals Inc.; Marian Wright Edelman, president, Children's Defense Fund; the Rev. Timothy S. Healy, president, Georgetown Unity; Fred Hechinger, president, The New York Times Foundation; Dorothy Height, president, National Council of Negro Women.

Benjamin Hooks, executive director, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Stanley O. Ikenberry, president, University of Illinois; John Jacob, president, National Urban League; Barbara Jordan, professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas; Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey; Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, president, College of New Rochelle; Coretta Scott King, director, Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; Ted Koppel, newsman, American Broadcasting Company; Sol Linowitz, senior partner, Coudert Brothers; Wilma P. Mankiller, principal chief, Cherokee Nation; Franklin D. Murphy, director emeritus, board of directors, Times Mirror Company; Edmund S. Muskie, former senator and Secretary of State.

Gov. Rudy Perpich of Minnesota; Donald E. Peterson, chairman, Ford Motor Company; Alan Pifer, chairman, Southport Institute for Policy Analysis; William P. Rogers, former Secretary of State and lawyer, Rogers & Wells; Harold T. Shapiro, president, Princeton University; Kenneth A. Shaw, president, University of Wisconsin; Franklin A. Thomas, president, Ford Foundation; Lawrence W. Tyree, president, Gulf Coast Community College; Peter Ueberroth, commissioner of baseball; Cyrus R. Vance, former Secretary of State and lawyer, Simpson, Thacter, & Bartlett.

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