Donald V. Adderton
Rules have changed, but a college degree is within reach of most Mississippians
In our increasingly high-tech society, the pursuit of a college education is not expected, but demanded.
But in our zeal to attract the best and the brightest, perhaps we might not be taking into account those students who do not quite measure up on the so-called Bell Curve.
Nonetheless, one fact remains, adolescents need instruction beyond high school because the academic landscape is changing. This is a critically important moment inasmuch as the development of a fertile mind should always be paramount.
It becomes even more important for people of color to gain the necessary academic underpinnings that have been denied to many of them - first through segregated public schools, and later through miseducation in so-called integrated public schools.
I should know, because in the late 1960s I was one of those students who unwittingly dined on a steady diet of substandard instruction in a predominantly white North Jersey high school.
Mother lectured me religiously that knowledge is the only thing the man cannot take once you have mastered the task.
Of course, mother's philosophy is irrelevant if one never had the opportunity to embrace the knowledge in the first place.
But an important fact remains: Education is still the primary source to set right centuries of colonial misinformation that continue to filter through the classroom.
Now there are continued attacks - relentless aggression in some cases - on that so-called educational freedom through ballot referendum and judicial redress.
California voters have passed the controversial Proposition 209 - removing so-called preferential treatment on state college entrance examinations for people of color.
And recently, the City University of New York decided to scrap a decades-long open-door policy of accepting minorities and immigrants in the 11-college system, even though these students showed deficiencies on diagnostic tests in core requirements: reading, composition and mathematics.
A lawsuit older than most grads
Closer to home, Mississippi's system of higher education has been locked in a racial discrimination battle since 1975 in a lawsuit filed by the late Jake Ayers Sr. on behalf of his college-student son. The litigation has moved all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and back to U.S. District Court.
Unlike some other academic locales, Mississippi has ceased many of the denials, and is addressing decades of racial neglect on the collegiate level.
U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr., sitting in Oxford, probably had a lot to do with the state's apparent about-face on the matter. Progress is progress, so who's arguing?
Three years ago, the federal judge ordered Mississippi to install new programs, improve buildings and upgrade endowments at the state's three historically black colleges, plus institute identical entrance requirements for all of the eight state schools.
Even though a committee is overseeing the state's implementation of the court-mandated plan, I keep wondering: Does this mean that every student who wants a college education in Mississippi will still receive one?
"Everything is being done to ensure students and families understand the opportunities which are available," said Pam Meyer, spokeswoman for the state's College Board. "We are addressing that question at every turn and hope no one becomes complacent in the process."
Recruitment, from the top down
To spread this new academic posture, Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat and Clinton Bristow, president of Alcorn State University, are visiting high schools and speaking with students about their college plans and the benefits of a Mississippi college education.
"We are also strengthening our relationship with the community colleges," Meyer said. "And we are out there recruiting students."
Apparently someone is listening, because enrollment in the state college system has increased for the 1997-98 academic year from 60,557 to 62,243. Both black and white enrollments showed similar increases.
Under the new state plan, if a student is not quite up to speed, part of the strategy calls for summer school remedial classes, which are not as pressurized.
"This has been structured and is as positive as possible," Meyer said. "The (academic) support is there, if the student is interested."
From my point of view, the college experience should be for those who are academically well-equipped and emotionally grounded enough to handle the demands of the classroom.
There is nothing wrong with undergoing a remedial assessment as a means of determining academic worthiness.
In that way, the world-class instruction will be knowledge indicative of scholarly achievement, and not an education of empty hand-me-downs.
Donald V. Adderton is a general assignment reporter for The Sun Herald. You can contact him by mail, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535; telephone, 896-2303; or e-mail, DAdderton@aol.com.