Many educational barriers have fallen in the 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Yet increasing numbers of African American students once again are opting to enroll at historically black colleges and universities. In Maryland, this trend coincides with changing demographics among college students in general.
When Maryland's 12 public colleges and universities were desegregated, the integration flowed almost entirely in one direction -- African Americans moving from the state's four historically black institutions (which were never segregated) to its predominantly white campuses. Maryland had neglected its black campuses, and they were in no position to compete for their traditional constituency, much less for white students. Their enrollments dropped, sometimes quite dramatically.
But under agreements with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, Maryland eventually began making improvements to its historically black institutions. New academic programs and new or renovated facilities began to reverse the enrollment trend. Since 1990 enrollment at historically black institutions has increased by 44 percent while the enrollment at the other public four-year campuses, as a group, has increased by less than 7 percent.
The black college-age population in Maryland also began to grow in the 1980s, well in advance of the recent uptick in the number of high school graduates. A decade ago African Americans made up 19 percent of enrollments in the public four-year sector. By 2002 they accounted for 26 percent of enrollments.
Meanwhile, in more recent years, the number of Asian American and Hispanic students has increased at an even faster rate, although their numbers are smaller than the numbers of black students. Conversely, the percentage of white students has dropped, from 69 percent of all enrollments in 1990 to 54 percent in 2002.
Maryland's community colleges have absorbed much of recent enrollment increases into student bodies that already were considerably more diverse than that of the typical public four-year campus. In addition to their lower costs, community colleges have open admissions, admitting those who are unable to gain entry to Maryland's predominantly white campuses. The University of Maryland's University College, which does not have a traditional campus and does have a liberal admissions policy, also has had large increases in blacks and Hispanics among its mostly part-time, mostly older student body.
Unlike the community colleges, historically black institutions do not have open admissions, but their admissions standards are more liberal than Maryland's most selective public colleges. Their growth is appropriate because a burgeoning issue for Maryland is educational access, particularly for African Americans and other minorities. Without the historically black institutions, Maryland would not be able to meet the needs of the rapidly growing number of young people who want to attend college.
Yet despite the efforts of these campuses, access to Maryland higher education is again emerging as a critical issue. Maryland public schools are projected to graduate 4,300 more students a decade from now -- an 8 percent increase. That figure will include 4,200 fewer whites but 4,500 more Hispanics, 2,300 more blacks and 1,700 more Asians. Ten years from now, 55 percent of all public school graduates will be members of "minority groups," up from 42 percent now.
The state needs to be concerned about the educational attainment of its minority residents. Despite the dramatic growth of their numbers in Maryland higher education, the percentages of these groups receiving bachelor's degrees remain far lower than the percentage of white students.
Historically black campuses and community colleges are likely to continue to play a major role in absorbing the increase in students and in providing access to the historically underserved. Maryland will need to invest considerably more in these campuses to ensure that they have the resources to fulfill their critical mission.
-- Earl S. Richardson
is president of
Morgan State University.