Five southern states, including Virginia, have seriously defaulted on promises to desegregate their colleges and universities, leaving black enrollment rates lower than they were a decade ago, a civil rights group charged yesterday.
A study by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund also reported that black students in these states received a smaller proportion of financial aid last year than seven years earlier, that blacks make up only 6 to 8 percent of graduate enrollment and that the disparity between white and black college-going rates has widened since the 1970s.
"On virtually every measure, states have failed to meet their desegregation and enhancement targets, goals they set them- selves . . . ," said Julius Chambers, director-counsel of the organization, also known as the Legal Defense Fund. "Consequently, blacks are little better, and often worse off, than they were a decade ago in higher education."
Black college enrollment has been dropping nationwide in recent years, but the decline in these states -- Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Virginia -- has occurred in spite of desegregation plans monitored under a federal court order.
And while these states have been among the leaders in imposing higher high school graduation requirements, Chambers said, they have not helped black high school students prepare for college.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education has been lax in enforcing the desegregation measures, according to Chambers. He called on Education Secretary William J. Bennett to begin enforcement proceedings against the states, a process that eventually could lead to a cutoff in federal funding or new desegregation commitments.
Gary Curran, a spokesman for the Office of Civil Rights, said the department is "vigorously enforcing" civil rights laws and is doing a "thorough and professional" review of desegregation efforts in the states. He said the department is close to releasing findings on whether the states have met desegregation commitments.
State officials said they have made sincere efforts to reach desegregation goals, but have been frustrated by external factors, including federal policies making it harder for low-income black students to receive tuition grants.
David Temple, deputy education secretary in Virginia, said declining black enrollment "is a problem that the colleges and universities are not making, but a problem that we all together must try to address . . . . Virginia's efforts are sincere and sound."
Virginia was one of two states singled out by Chambers for its poor showing in meeting desegregation goals. According to the study, the state met only its target covering the entry rate of black students in community colleges. The state reached only 60 percent of its goal for increasing overall college enrollment among blacks, the analysis showed.
Improvements at Norfolk State University, a traditionally black institution, were cited as among the most visible signs of progress in the five states. The institution has added 23 new academic programs and raised faculty salaries.
Chambers said Georgia made the least progress, a criticism countered by state officials there who said they have made "Herculean" efforts to meet their goals. "We have implemented an enormous number of measures," said H. Dean Propst, chancellor of the university system of Georgia.
The desegregation plans stem from a 1970 lawsuit filed by the Legal Defense Fund, which challenged the federal government's funding to states operating segregated colleges and universities. U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt ruled that federal officials must enforce civil rights laws, denying funds to states that fail to comply with desegregation plans.