Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bridging the Gap That Divides America

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bridging the Gap That Divides America

Article excerpt

The early 1970s, the aftermath of the civil rights movement, was a time of great promise for America's minority population. Nowhere was the promise greater than in engineering. Engineering was the nation's largest profession, the root of its economic development, the source of wealth creation. It was a field in which half of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had earned their stripes.

While African Americans were still virtually invisible in engineering -- comprising only 1 percent of the engineering workforce -- the social, political, and economic pressures of the day demanded change. Corporate, academic, and government leaders, recognizing that the historical exclusion of minorities deprived the profession of desperately needed talent, vigorously championed equal opportunity efforts.

Progress during the ensuing quarter century has been no less astounding. Under-represented minorities are almost 6 percent of today's engineering workforce. Universities produce more than 6,000 minority B.S. graduates in engineering annually, up from just a few hundred thirty years ago. Since 1980, NACME (National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering) alone has invested more than $110 million in its programs, yielding 6,700 engineering graduates.

The story, however, does not have a happy ending. The 6,422 African American, Latino, and American Indian B.S. degrees in engineering in 1997 comprised only 10 percent of the total. The 197 minority doctorates granted in 1997 amounted to only 2.8 percent of the total -- this from ethnic groups that make up 28.5 percent of the college-age population.

More discouraging than the number of degrees, however, is the current climate of resistance. The well-organized, well-funded, and effectively articulated anti-affirmative action movement is sweeping the nation with litigation, voter initiatives, and legislative action pending in at least sixteen states.

The climate not only threatens further progress but jeopardizes the gains already achieved. There were 1,574 fewer minority freshmen in the entering engineering class of 1996 than there were in 1992, a 10.4 percent decline. African American enrollment was hit the hardest, experiencing a devastating 16.2 percent drop.

Perhaps the greatest danger is that recent court decisions are driving us further and further toward one-dimensional criteria -- such as standardized test results -- in determining university admissions. …

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