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Can black colleges survive?

By Luix OverbeaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 18, 1984

Greensboro, N.C.

''When I ask you how you're doing, don't tell me about a 1.9 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale). I want to hear of nothing less than 2.6. And I would shout and rejoice if you told me about your 3.9 average.''

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Chancellor Edward B. Fort issues that kind of challenge to the 5,960 students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) here in Greensboro - whether he's addressing a formal audience or just chatting with a student on campus.

Farther south, at tiny Paine College (700 students) in Augusta, Ga., Sasha Callender, a student from New York, tells her story: ''My life is turned around because of Paine College,'' says the 25-year-old senior, who ''wasted three years of my life partying and fooling around.'' At Paine Miss Callender dropped her life as a Big Apple ''swinger'' to become an honors student, president of the student government in her junior year, an actress-director, and a summer missionary (fund-raiser) for the United Methodist Church Black College Fund.

North Carolina's A&T and Georgia's Paine are among America's 103 historically black colleges - schools established specifically to educate blacks. Today they are often challenged to prove they still have a place in an education system that no longer sanctions segregation.

Black schools are also struggling to shed the stigma of inferiority they acquired during the years of ''separate but equal'' schooling.

The credibility of black colleges was bolstered, however, in a report (''Participation of Recent Black College Graduates in the Labor Market and in Graduate Education,'' by Joan C. Baratz and Myra Ficklen) published in May 1983 by the Educational Policy Research Institute. The report concludes that a degree from a black college ''is not a deterrent to employment opportunities. The data in this study clearly support the role of black colleges and universities in enhancing opportunities for black Americans.''

In spite of their achievements, however, nearly all black colleges are short of money in all categories - budgets, endowments, capital funds, scholarships, and student loans. The state-supported black colleges face an added dilemma - how to register more white students. In 19 states such enrollment is mandated by a federal court consent decree (Adams v. Bell, filed originally in 1972 as Adams v. Richardson), which requires those states to equalize the quality of their black and white campuses and to bring more courses that can serve all students to the black campuses.

Of the estimated 1.1 million black students attending the nation's colleges, only 20 percent are enrolled in black colleges. These colleges award 40 percent of the undergraduate degrees earned by blacks, however. Their basic competition comes, not from mainstream universities and colleges, but from two-year colleges and new urban institutions such as the University of the District of Columbia.