Threat to black colleges?


Does the recent Supreme Court ruling on desegregating state colleges pose a threat to Maryland's historically black public institutions? That's a worst-case scenario only one justice, Antonin Scalia, seems to believe will happen.

The other eight justices indicated otherwise in their majority opinion. What the high court mandated was an end to any official state policies that still keep the races separated in public colleges. This could have dramatic impact in the Deep South and some border states, but educators in Maryland don't feel there will be much direct fallout here.

That's because the state has been engaged in an on-going effort to do exactly what the Supreme Court is now seeking: upgrade existing majority-black institutions and actively expand the pool of blacks attending majority-white campuses.

Since 1985, Maryland has been operating under an agreement worked out with the Justice Department to overcome past college segregation. This has led to $142 million in capital improvements at traditionally black schools (double the amount set as a goal), a $12 million gain in these schools' operating budgets above normal allocations and a rise in black students on all Maryland campuses.

Unlike the state of Mississippi, which insists it had done all that was legally necessary by allowing any student to enroll at any state college, Maryland sought to raise standards, programs and facilities at historically black colleges to comparable levels with other state campuses. At the same time, special efforts have been made at majority-white colleges to enroll and graduate more black students.

Results have been promising. College Park, for instance, now graduates more black baccalaureate students than any other school in the country. Towson State's percentage of black graduates is even higher than that. A huge building program at Morgan State could soon put it on a par with other state colleges. Enrollment at the four historically black colleges is booming. The state's per-student spending at black colleges ranks near the top.

The goal is to create an environment at these schools that draws interest from black and white students. Historically black colleges still require more funds to broaden counseling and tutoring, increase the diversity of program and degree offerings, establish top-quality graduate programs and give more scholarship aid to low-income students. At the same time, other state colleges have to do more to increase the number of minority students that attend and receive degrees, especially at the graduate-school level.

In Maryland's higher-education statute, enhancement of traditionally black colleges is listed as a prime objective. Considerable funds have been committed for this purpose. We feel the state is on the right path, but it must aggressively stay the course to ensure that long-standing racial inequities are fully erased.

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