Minorities in US still lag behind

June 2, 1995

The 1954 Brown ruling outlawed discrimination in education in the United States but Lucy Hodges reports that minorities are finding there are still limits to 'equality' in the Land of the Free. Black and Hispanic students in the south of the United States are still being frozen out of higher education, 41 years after the historic Brown v Board of Education ruling outlawed discrimination in education, according to a report from the Southern Education Foundation.

Most flagship universities in the South remain more than 80 per cent white, said the report which examined 12 of the 19 states which established segregated education systems at the end of the Civil War - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Among other findings were the following: *Sixty per cent of black first-year students attend historically black colleges or junior colleges where the education is held to be inferior to that at the flagship universities *Success rates for ethnic minorities, measured in graduation rates and postgraduate enrolment, are stagnant or falling *In eight of the 12 states, fewer than 10 per cent of black first-year students were enrolled in their state's largest and most prestigious institutions *Financial aid for the poor is declining.

One of the problems with financial aid is that during the 1980s federal government help switched away from grants and towards loans.

"One result of these changes is that financial aid is now more oriented toward the needs of middle and upper-middle-income students than it is to those of low income," said the report.

"Another is that students and their families are now paying about 138 per cent of what they paid in 1980 to attend college."

In Mississippi, the poorest state in America, the cost of a year's tuition at state colleges and universities amounts to around 40 per cent of the income of the average ethnic minority family.

Blacks comprise 43 per cent of the college-age population in the state of Mississippi, but make up only 11.8 per cent of those graduating from state colleges.

The number of blacks earning first degrees in 1991 was less than the number graduating in 1979.

Such findings are seen as evidence of a lack of commitment to promoting integration.

None of the education systems in these states are formally segregated today, but the legacy of former official segregation persists.

The report points out that a 1992 legal decision, US v Fordice, offers an opportunity for states to integrate their higher education systems just as Brown v Board of Education did for schools.

The 1992 decision, which applied to Mississippi and said it failed to satisfactorily desegregate its public higher education system, required the state to go beyond race-neutral admissions.

And it cited four areas for examination: admission standards, programme duplication, mission statements for individual colleges, and the continued operation of eight separate universities dating from the days of legal segregation.

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