Education: Black Priorities


What Can Be Done?

The problems of black Americans cannot be resolved if we persist in formulating solutions based solely on discrete, noncontinuous factors that are biproducts of social problems thought to be indigenous only to the United States. Improvements in the economic status of black Americans depend on a combination of factors, including: (1) the balance of trade; (2) importation of raw materials; (3) exportation of goods and capital; (4) government spending; (5) productivity; (6) structural changes in industry; (7) demography; (8) immigration policies and other causes of chronic unemployment. In other words, economic conditions that were sufficient to sustain national prosperity and economic growth in the past do not exist today. I feel that a vigorously expanding economy, including a tight labor market, may be possible if the issues are seriously addressed with fresh ideas and renewed vigor.

People in higher education must reexamine the role of higher education, not only as it relates to national prosperity, but also as it relates to the inevitability of some form of world economic development. For example, much of our educational technology is exported or transferred out of the country, vis--vis foreign scholars whose application of such technology is used in competition against America's inventiveness. When this occurs, we must pay in several ways. We not only pay in the form of subsidized education for our competitors; we also pay through exorbitant costs and through the export of needed capital to import the raw materials and finished goods produced by the same technicians we have previously subsidized and trained. I am not opposed to the training of foreign scholars; however, from a parochial perspective, the educational achievements and economic progress of black Americans—and for that matter, all Americans—depend to a large extent on a favorable domestic climate which is impacted by this technology and capital transfer. The presence of favorable economic factors is conspicuously absent in most black communities and among historically black institutions of higher education. One of the most important issues confronting blacks in higher education is the choice of ends for which an educational process is designed. Without clear and rational educational goals, it is impossible to decide which educational programs achieve objectives of general import and which teach incidental facts and attitudes of dubious worth.

Education is the keystone to black economic development. While serving as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts I witnessed the decline in educational achievement of the students coming out of our secondary schools within the state. Since admittances to our freshman class consisted mostly of in-state students numbering about 4,000 persons, we had a sufficient cross section of Massachusetts highschool graduates to analyze this growing educational phenomenon. The black population in Massachusetts is approximately 4 percent of the total state population, and out of nearly 14,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students, only a few dozen were black. The admissions office informed me that only a few black students applied and were qualified for admission. An examination of the admissions data clearly indicated that if flexible admission standards were not employed, the freshman class, which was at that time over 60 percent white males, would have a far larger percentage of women who scored academically higher than the males and the intercollegiate athletic program would be nonexistent. Two steps were then taken: the same flexible admissions practices were applied to black applicants, along with an aggressive recruiting campaign similar to the recruiting programs of the intercollegiate athletic team, and a skills program was developed to improve the abilities of students, both black and white, in mathematics and in written and verbal English. A significant percentage of students make use of these programs to repair the serious academic deficiencies which have resulted from their primary and secondary school experiences. In fact, we have found these problems not to be race specific. The result was that in a very short period of time we enrolled over 1,000 black undergraduate and graduate students, and these students were experiencing about the same graduation rate as their white peers. Further, this was accomplished with the same flexible admissions criteria, aggressive recruiting programs, and incollege skills-training programs accepted and enjoyed by the white students.

Finally, you have a unique opportunity here today to see another tragic indictment of our higher education and secondary school counseling program. You should take a very close look at me before you leave this conference, since in your lifetime you may not have an opportunity to meet and see another black geophysicist/geologist. Black students are not made aware of the diversity of academic disciplines and the growing job market requiring these technical skills. I serve on the boards of directors of some fairly large U.S. corporations, and each day these companies agonize over the very serious and growing problems of the shortfall in trained professional and technical personnel. Those companies, with sufficient capital for expansion and diversification, will be constrained by the lack of skilled manpower. It is important that we find new and viable approaches to the proper education of our black youth to help fill this trained manpower gap, not only for the black youth, but for the future of these United States and for the health and vitality of our free enterprise system.

Economic Growth: The Central Issue Table of Contents False Assumptions about Black Education