Renewed emphasis on gaps in college success for minorities
Minority achievement in science majors continues to lag, a new report indicates.
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Some people within the civil rights community challenge the idea that there should be special programs focused on race or gender groups. "CUNY has adopted policies that I believe to be paternalistic, racist, and stigmatizing," says Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. The university could "have a retention program ... because of economic status, because of past high school experience," he says. "You can't use race and gender as proxies."Skip to next paragraph
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His group lodged discrimination complaints against two colleges in the CUNY system (although not City Tech) because their programs allegedly taught black males separately. The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating CUNY's BMI program, which receives city funding. OCR officials would not comment on the case.
Out of 120 City Tech BMI participants, about one-quarter are women and half are not African-American, Ms. Jackson says. Several students say the program is welcoming to all, and they love the guidance it offers. "I didn't feel any racial boundaries," says Stephen Driebe, a white participant. Renee Clarke says she was expecting the group to be mostly black males, but that it's very diverse. This summer, she'll be one of three BMI students to take a research trip to Mexico, a rare opportunity for students at her college.
City Tech is one of the Model Replication Institutions in a venture supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to boost the success of underrepresented minorities in science and math.
Spreading the word about efforts to close college achievement gaps is also the aim of a recent report by Education Sector, an independent policy group in Washington. It notes that at an average four-year college, the graduation rate for whites is about 20 percentage points higher than for blacks. But it goes on to highlight schools that have achieved graduation parity.
At Florida State University, for example, 72 percent of African-Americans graduate within six years, compared with 69 percent of whites. FSU has a comprehensive retention program for low-income and first-generation college students, about two-thirds of whom are black. Other schools are cited for creating first-year "learning communities" and "early alert" systems to help students who are struggling academically.
"It's not that we don't know how to help students graduate, [but] it takes a substantial amount of attention," says Kevin Carey of Education Sector, the report's author. Incentives for university leaders – everything from rankings to how their governing boards hold them accountable – "[are not] particularly sensitive to minority college-graduation rates, but they should be," Mr. Carey says.
Particularly in the business community, "there are pockets of people who understand the urgency," says Adolphe, a former NACME board member. Indeed, some middle schools and high schools now have corporate-funded curriculums to better prepare students to go on to major in such subjects as aerospace engineering and biotechnology.