ANNAPOLIS – Black students in Maryland are entering college and graduating at lower rates than their white counterparts, according to a report released Tuesday by the Southern Education Foundation.
The good news is, Maryland is ahead of other states with formerly segregated school systems, the foundation said. The report shows that the percentage of blacks in state colleges is approaching the overall percentage of blacks in the state.
But black students complete high school and college at much lower rates than white students. Only 15 percent of Maryland blacks over age 25 have bachelor’s degrees, while 36 percent of whites over age 25 have bachelor’s degrees, the report says.
“This report shows how far we’ve come,” said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, who helped compile the local data. “But it also shows the gaps that still need to be filled.”
The report, titled “Miles to Go: Maryland,” is the first state-specific follow-up to the foundation’s 1998 report on the experience of black students in the 19 states that used to operate segregated school systems. The original report concluded that black students enter and graduate from college at lower rates than whites in all of the formerly segregated states.
Maryland is ahead of the other states in both college entry and graduation rates for black students, said Robert A. Kronley, the foundation’s senior consultant. But the report offers suggestions for how the state can do better.
The report focuses specifically on improving the quality of public school education so students are better prepared for college, and on offering more financial aid at state colleges.
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said improving the quality of teachers in the state is particularly important, because majority black districts like Baltimore and Prince George’s County have the highest percentages of uncertified teachers in the state.
Teachers must be experts on the content they are teaching to properly prepare students for college, Grasmick said.
Eighty percent of white students who entered Maryland high schools in 1992 graduated within four years compared to only 62 percent of black students. These numbers must improve, the report says.
The SEF recommends initiatives already underway in Maryland such as offering financial incentives for talented college students to enter teaching, increasing the minimum qualifying scores for national examinations used for teacher certification and raising the standards of teacher-training programs.
But without financial aid, even many prepared black students cannot complete college, said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “Far too many students are failing to complete college because they can’t afford to,” he said.
More than 50 percent of black students require some financial aid, yet federal Pell Grants, one of the most common financial aid programs, do not cover nearly as much of college costs as they used to. Petitioning the federal government to raise the caps on Pell Grants might be one way to offer black students more opportunities, Langenberg said.
State policymakers should fully fund state need-based and scholarship funds, the report says, but criteria for aid should include need, merit, talent and family background instead of focusing specifically on race. Race-based scholarships have been problematic in Maryland since 1995, when a Latino student at the University of Maryland won a lawsuit on the grounds that he was discriminated against by the state’s Benjamin Banneker scholarship, which provided full education funding only for talented black students.
Community colleges are also areas where the state can help its black students, the report says. A majority of black high school graduates who enrolled in Maryland colleges in 1996 enrolled in community colleges. While just 19 percent of black students in community colleges either graduated or transferred to four-year colleges, compared to 38 percent of whites. Programs designed to help community college students transfer to four-year schools must be better funded, Langenberg said.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who attended the presentation, said she appreciates the foundation’s effort and is concerned students who don’t keep up in college will be left behind in a high-technology employment market that increasingly requires advanced degrees for competitive salaries. The Southern Education Foundation is an Atlanta-based public charity that has worked for more than 130 years to promote equality in education in the South. -30-