Report Addresses Future of Minority Education

Acknowledging that traditional affirmative action is a thing of the past, faculty, students, and administrators across the country recommend looking into increased cooperation between minority and majority educational institutions, mentoring, and programs for the economically disadvantaged. Minority institutions are those colleges or universities with more than 25% underrepresented minorities in the population.

The recommendations were drawn during last summer's conference, "Steering Minority Education in the 21st Century," held in June at Rice University. A recently released report highlights key conclusions, suggestions, and solutions offered during numerous panel presentations and discussions. Attendees came to the following recommendations:

  • Acknowledge the death of affirmative action as it has been known, and use other approaches such as recruiting at schools with high minority enrollment; consider economic factors, first-generation college background, and language; identify alternative assessment systems for admission; establish support networks; include student mentors and student and faculty role models; and implement a statewide policy in which a top percentage of all high school graduates would automatically be accepted into state-funded institutions.
  • Minority and majority institutions should seek out opportunities to partner or share resources such as world-class researchers, advanced technology and facilities, strong ties to the "outside" world, and highly accessible and nurturing programs and environments.
  • Student mentoring and developing groups of like-minded people is crucial to easing transitions between high school, college, graduate programs, and the workplace, as is exposing students early-on to academically enriching programs and encouraging parental involvement.
  • Minority institutions should not develop graduate programs until undergraduate programs are well-established so that resources are not sacrificed. Some conference participants said that minority institutions should create graduate programs; others said establishing graduate programs at minority institutions would dilute the system, and that minorities should go to already-established schools with recognized credentials in order to move into the mainstream.
"In this country, there is serious underrepresentation of Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans in science, mathematics and engineering training programs," said conference chair Richard Aló, professor of computer and mathematical sciences at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). "This is a serious shortcoming in a field which has 200,000 jobs going unfilled per year. We must look at all avenues to increase the ethnic representation here to avoid defacto second class citizenship and to maintain our world leadership in an economy which is high technology driven."

"More than 50% of kindergarteners in Texas right now are Hispanic," said conference moderator Richard Tapia, CRPC Director of Education and Human Resources and Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice. "And we see that while Hispanic and African American students do as well as others in math and science up to about grade four, there is a major decline in their achievements in middle school and high school. How well we address this concern right now determines the shape of the future for many Texans and for many Americans."

Where majority institutions exist, minority institutions are often close by, making partnerships possible. Attendees agreed that both types of institutions are necessary for educational success in the United States.

The conference was implemented by the South-Central Computational Science in Minority Institutions Consortium (SC-COSMIC). SC-COSMIC was formed in 1995 with support from the CRPC to strengthen and reform K-16 math and science education and promote computational science education and research. Members share their resources and expertise in curricula reform, interactive learning, multimedia materials, remote databases, and supercomputing.

Students and faculty members from Rice, UH-D, and Prairie View A&M University formed an initial team that played a key role in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the conference. The CRPC and the Center for Computational Sciences and Advanced Distributed Simulation provided planning assistance.

"We are grateful to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the National Science Foundation for their recognition of the problem of minority representation and for their funding of this conference," says Aló.

For a previous CRPC newsletter about the conference, see Winter 1998 PCR, "'Steering Minority Education for the 21st Century,' an SC-COSMIC Conference to be held June 25." For a copy of the conference report, contact Lia Unrau in the Rice Office of Media Relations and Information at (713)831-4793 or

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