Other Black Students

If they aren't jocks, colleges do little to help them cope

FOR colleges and universities, black scholars have become almost as hot a property as black athletes. Particularly in the past two years, America's elite colleges have aggressively recruited the top black students to come to their campuses. Black-student applications to my university alone have tripled since 1987. Chief among the colleges' arsenal to attract the best black students are scholarships. Blacks understandably want to attend the highest-caliber academic institutions, and scholarships make it possible. Similarly, the best black athletes accept athletic scholarships to play with the highest-profile college teams.

But that's where the analogy between black athletes and other black students ends in many cases. Thrust onto predominantly white campuses with demanding academic curricula, black scholars do not have the advantage of the kind of support programs that have helped black athletes achieve such remarkable successes.

Look what happens when the black athlete, or any athlete, starts college. A specific daily regimen is established for athletic practice and study, and tutors are available. The athlete knows exactly what he's doing and when and where. He knows whom he'll work with all through college.

On the other hand, the black scholar is too often left alone to sink or swim on his own in the unfamiliar, predominantly white environment of the college campus. Institutions that allow this to happen are saying they need the black students on campus more than they want to keep them there.

Black scholars, it seems, are not permitted to fail and remain students; black athletes are. Black athletes may not live up to the potential they showed as prep stars, they may not perform their best in every game, and they may even go for a long period near the bottom of the team statistics. But they still keep their scholarships, and they are still students.

The real slap in the face for black students who aren't athletes, then, is that they must prove their worth again every year in order to stay on campus. Unlike their athlete counterparts, black scholars are being required by some colleges to maintain upwards of a 3.4 grade-point average so they can retain their scholarships. Keeping up grades is even more difficult when students change majors - something students do an average of three or four times as they explore various interests before graduating.

The combination of this grade pressure with the uncertainties of a new environment make it doubly difficult for the black student to succeed on the elite college campus. What I see happening now is that black scholars are looking around and finding that many of their fellow students are not able to persist.

It is inaccurate to say colleges are losing these black students, I believe, because the colleges never fully captured them in the first place. I have seen black students at some of these institutions spend so much time studying to maintain grades that they never get involved in campus life or become part of the campus community.

Fortunately, a few colleges have recognized the need to provide greater support systems to help retain the larger numbers of black students now moving well into their college careers. These colleges, including mine, are eliminating superficial grade maintenance requirements, hiring more black faculty as role models, and encouraging black students to participate in campus life and pursue leadership opportunities.

Other colleges will have to follow our lead if they want to make the grade with black scholars.

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