Minorities Still Underrepresented on Campus but Not in Texts the Money Crunch: Colleges and Universities Try to Cut Costs without Lowering Quality -- but Still Tuitions Climb; That's Bad Enought for All Students, but Minorities Especially Risk Being Priced out of Higher Education

Article excerpt

FOR generations, a university education has been an integral part of the American dream. But what happens when increasing numbers of people - many of them ethnic minorities - want to grab a piece of that dream? United States colleges and universities find themselves hard-pressed to offer continued opportunity in an age of budget cutbacks.

That concerns Clement Shearer. He grew up in the Columbia Point housing projects in Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood, one of five children of a single mother. His family didn't have the money to send him to college, but a scholarship allowed him to attend Brown University in Providence, R.I., and it changed his life forever.

Today, Mr. Shearer is dean for budget and planning at Carleton College, a small liberal arts school in Minnesota. From his present job, he has watched as government and private financial assistance has failed to keep up with tuition hikes. Even Brown has ended its "need-blind" admissions policy. Given the present economic conditions, Shearer wonders if it will be possible for other poor black youngsters to follow in his footsteps.

"Every student who wants to should be able to attend a college that's an intellectual stretch but not too burdensome," Shearer says. "If cost is driving them to less-appropriate schools, it's a real loss to the nation."

But that is, indeed, what may be occurring today. While the number of blacks and other minorities graduating from high school has increased during the last decade, the number entering college has stagnated. Many educators blame rising tuition and declining financial aid.

In particular, the federal government has shifted a great deal of its aid from Pell grants to student loans. Shearer and others argue this shift discourages many minority youngsters, not used to borrowing large sums of money, from attending college.

The situation is almost as bleak for the vast middle class. While financial aid does usually exist to help the very poor, middle-income students often find they have to forgo their dream of going to a first-class institution.

"Private liberal arts schools are becoming increasingly inaccessible to the large middle class," says Richard Hersh, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York. "If you have an income over, say, $45,000, the principle is {your kids} don't qualify for financial aid."

The demands for access to higher education do not seem likely to ease soon. The number of college-age students, already bulging in Texas, California, Arizona, and a few other states, is predicted to grow rapidly across the country in the mid-1990s. And as more minorities enter the middle class, they will want the traditional American dream of a higher education. The challenge for universities will be to meet those expectations without sacrificing a crucial ingredient - the quality of the education they offer. …