WASHINGTON – Most Maryland public colleges and universities engage in racial and ethnic discrimination when deciding which students to admit, a Washington-based research group charged Wednesday.
The Center for Equal Opportunity based its claim on a comparison of standardized test scores, graduation rates and remedial enrollment for white, black, Hispanic and Asian students in 1997 at 10 public, four-year colleges in the state.
But college administrators in the state attacked the findings as inadequate and misleading.
“This is a fairly unsophisticated view of a sophisticated process,” said Jeff Welsh, spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission. “It proves you can use numbers to prove a lot of things.”
The president of the center said her group wanted to use more information in its study, such as grade-point averages and class ranks, but schools were unwilling to provide it.
“We asked for all kinds of information, but schools were totally uncooperative,” said Linda Chavez. “The only information we did get was SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test) scores on the students enrolled.”
But Chavez said the center, which has completed similar studies of college admission in Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota, was still able to conduct a valid study.
“Despite the inadequacy, we’ve been doing this for several years. . . we saw in Maryland the same pattern in the other states as well,” Chavez said.
The disparities between black and white SAT scores were greatest at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Salisbury State University, Bowie State University, Frostburg State University and University of Maryland College Park, according to the center’s study. It found much less-defined patterns between whites and Hispanics and between whites and Asians.
At College Park, where two-thirds of the students are white, gaps between white and black student scores and white and Hispanic student scores are very large, the report said. White students scored 60 points higher than either group on the verbal section of the SAT and, in math, whites outscored black students by 110 points and Hispanics by 80 points. Asians outscored whites in math SAT scores.
But Linda Clement, director of undergraduate admissions at College Park, said it is no surprise that minorities underperform on standardized tests like the SAT. That is not the only measure of a student, she said.
“I don’t like to see standardized test scores this way. That’s not what they are designed to do. This simplifies it too much,” Clement said.
She added that the university considers 25 factors for admission, including the quality of a student’s high school curriculum and his or her performance in it.
But Chavez said SAT scores were still used because they “do indicate how well-prepared students are for college work.”
According to the study, schools with large gaps between students’ SAT scores also showed large gaps between graduation rates and remedial enrollment. The report said that at College Park, for example, 45 percent of black students graduated compared to 66 percent of white students.
Chavez said that at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which showed insubstantial differences in SAT scores, graduation rates were nearly equal for black and white students.
But a spokesman at one of the targeted schools, Frostburg State University, denied that race is the deciding factor in admission. Frostburg has a 16 percent minority population.
“We do have a growing minority enrollment and do actively recruit minority students because we promote diversity,” said Frostburg spokesman Ty DeMartino. “But as far as giving minority students special admission, we do not do that.”
The purpose of this study, Chavez said, is to alert schools of what the study sees as a major problem.
“We think that we are focusing the spotlight on the problem and the universities have to address it,” Chavez said.
But, Clement said there is no problem.
“Race alone will never be a factor,” she said. “Race will never keep you out or keep you in. No single factor can do that.”