US reaches out to black pupils

November 8, 2002

Only 40 per cent of African-Americans who graduate from US high schools go on to a university education.

A renewed effort is under way to persuade young black Americans that not only can they afford to go to university but that they can attend one of the nation's 105 historically black campuses. These are so strapped for applicants that some are now predominantly white.

The "American Dream Tour" takes place this autumn at schools all over the US. It is partly sponsored by student loan provider Sallie Mae.

Kristen Piersol, manager of community outreach for Sallie Mae, said: "The historically black colleges and universities also have the need to reach out to this community. What we're doing is a win-win situation for the community and for the schools in helping them with their outreach."

The schools, most of which date from the era of race segregation, are trying to survive at a time of integration and assimilation.

White enrolment at historically black colleges and universities has increased about 30 per cent in the past 20 years, primarily because black enrolment is down and whites are drawn by the schools' lower tuition fees.

Many black students "look at higher education as something they can't afford", Ms Piersol said.

Bluefield State College in West Virginia is now 91 per cent white, West Virginia College 87 per cent white and Lincoln University in Missouri 67 per cent white. All are still considered "historically black".

Meanwhile, years of deferred maintenance have left these campuses in need of repairs that will cost an estimated $755 million (£483 million).

An additional estimated $700 million is needed to upgrade information technology networks at these institutions.

But historically black colleges still enrol about 300,000 students. While they represent only 3 per cent of the colleges and universities in the US, they award per cent of the bachelor's degrees earned by blacks.

Christopher Elders, a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta and a Rhodes scholar, told a congressional committee that historically black institutions "are not a symbol or a relic of the past, but are instead a beacon to the future".

Senator and former vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, who is sponsoring a bill to pay for repairs to historically black campuses, said they "have served as critical portals of opportunity for African-Americans throughout our history. They deserve our protection."

To attract students to the events on the American Dream Tour, sponsors have promised to award $500 scholarships randomly to members of the audience.

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