Desegregation Must Span All Grades, Report Urges

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Minority students continue to be denied equal access to formerly segregated public colleges and universities, a prominent civil-rights organization says in a report issued last week.

Moreover, state efforts to desegregate higher education have been hindered by racial discrimination at the elementary and secondary levels, the report by the Southern Education Foundation contends.

The Atlanta-based foundation's panel on educational opportunity and postsecondary desegregation examined 12 of the 19 states that once maintained dual higher-education systems for blacks and whites. Its report concludes that none "can demonstrate an acceptable level of success" in the desegregation of its public colleges and universities.

The unequal treatment of minority students begins at an early age, the report says: Elementary and secondary schools with predominantly minority students often receive the fewest resources, and minority students are far more likely than white students to be tracked into dead-end courses that offer little in the way of college preparation.

After they graduate, "many minority students are arbitrarily denied access to higher education through the misuse of tests and test scores," the report says.

It urges the states' governors to convene education policymakers and ask them to draft comprehensive desegregation plans "that effectively treat public schools and higher education as one system."

"The states cannot use their failure to provide an education of high quality to all students in public schools as a rationale for their failure to desegregate higher education," the report argues.

Few in Flagship Schools

Each of the 12 states examined in the report previously had devised a desegregation plan, typically as a result of court supervision or federal intervention. The only Northern state in the group was Pennsylvania, which federal officials accused in 1969 of maintaining a segregated higher-education system.

The panel found that African-Americans made up an average of 25 percent of the states' college-age populations, but just 10 percent of their college graduates and 16 percent of the full-time first-year students enrolled at public colleges. Blacks were half as likely as whites to have received a bachelor's degree.

And two of the states, Florida and Texas, showed severe under-representations of Hispanic students in their public colleges and universities, the panel concluded.

The report faults colleges and universities for relying too heavily on standardized-test scores in screening applicants.

Blacks and Hispanics are especially underrepresented at their states' flagship universities, the report notes. Many minority students rely on community colleges, which, for the most part, "have not been able to fulfill their potential to provide genuine access to further higher education," it says.

In 10 of the states analyzed, three out of five black, first-time college freshmen were enrolled in community colleges or historically black colleges and universities.

The panel found that historically black colleges have remained overwhelmingly black in their student composition, despite the adoption of nondiscriminatory student-enrollment policies. It urged states to refrain from closing or consolidating such schools as part of their desegregation efforts.

Vol. 14, Issue 35

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