RICHMOND, JUNE 9 -- Virginia education officials said today the gap between the percentages of white and black high school graduates entering the state's public colleges has nearly doubled despite an eight-year effort to reverse that trend.
Also, the officials said that gains scored by minorities at those institutions are sufficient to warrant an end to the U.S. government's monitoring of the state's college desegregation efforts.
In a blunt assessment of the affirmative action plan for state- supported colleges and universities, state Education Secretary Donald J. Finley and Gordon K. Davies, the director of the state Council of Higher Education, said state government has made no real progress in correcting the disparity between the proportions of whites and blacks entering Virginia's state-supported institutions of higher education.
Although the proportion of black high school graduates who enter state-supported colleges has remained just above 30 percent for the past eight years, white enrollment has climbed from 41 percent in 1979 to more than 50 percent last year.
"We have failed to provide all the education opportunities to black people," Davies said. Commented Finley: "We do not have enough young black men and women in college" in the state.
That gloomy picture, the two officials added, should not overshadow the state's compliance with longstanding federal guidelines on black enrollment and the hiring of black faculty and support staff -- progress that on Monday prompted Finley to ask the U.S. Department of Education to relax its monitoring of state desegregation efforts.
"In most instances, we have exceeded our numerical enrollment and hiring objectives" for blacks, Finley said in a letter to Alicia Coro, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department.
"Our dissatisfaction is not in relation to compliance with . . . civil rights criteria," Finley said in the letter, which he released today at a news conference here. "Our dissatisfaction is measured in the unfulfilled lives of Virginians."
Virginia's call for more freedom in monitoring its desegregation efforts is the second such appeal to the federal government in two years and marks the latest chapter in the lengthy civil rights and legal drama involving 10 southern and border states where student plaintiffs alleged illegal racial segregation.
The so-called Adams case, filed in 1970 by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, spawned a number of desegregation plans under which the states were to eliminate discrimination. Virginia's plan, adopted in 1978, expired last year, and federal officials are expected to rule shortly on whether the state has met its commitment to improve racial balance at its colleges and universities.
Gary L. Curran, a spokesman for Coro, said today that the U.S. Education Department will "definitely consider" Virginia's request to relax the federal oversight but added that he did not want to "prejudge" the merits of the state's case.
Meanwhile, Elliott C. Lichtman, an attorney for the Legal Defense and Education Fund and the plaintiffs in the Adams case, said his research and Finley's letter suggest that the state has fallen "woefully short" of reaching the racial objectives hammered out over the life of the landmark legal proceeding.
"The state of Virginia has committed itself on several occasions and now admits it has failed," Lichtman said. "It's not surprising, but it's very sad, given the history of this 17-year effort."
Also, Lichtman said that apart from the percentage of blacks entering Virginia colleges, there is a considerable amount of information indicating that the state lags behind its goals for retaining blacks in college, increasing the number of blacks in professional schools and advanced-degree programs, and upgrading its two traditionally black universities, Norfolk State and Virginia State, which is in the Petersburg area.
According to the state's higher education council, the number of blacks enrolling in graduate or professional studies in the three recent years has exceeded the objectives for those programs. For example, in the 1983-84 school year, there were 582 such black students and a goal of 164.
Last year, there were 641, well over the goal of 465 at 12 institutions.
The situation for blacks at traditionally white, four-year institutions is far bleaker, according to the state council. Last year, 1,726 black freshmen were enrolled at these 13 institutions, well below the goal of 2,730.
The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and George Mason University had goals of 269, 490 and 300 blacks respectively, but they enrolled only 146, 110 and 195 blacks, the council found.
Finley and Davies said today it may be years before the state's $22 million program, designed in 1986 to enhance the standing of blacks at state-supported colleges, bears fruit. But the officials said the state deserves credit for that and other "good faith" efforts to improve racial balances at those institutions.
"When you look at the whole record, it's a very positive record," Finley said.