For ten years, in Maryland, the court has presided over a case examining the state’s investment in historically black colleges; or lack thereof. A recent ruling over this case, though, helps shed light on education equality in the state, probably serving as a microcosm of our larger, national education system as a whole.
At this hearing, Federal judge Catherine C. Blake denied a new proposal from a coalition made of alumni from Maryland’s four historically black colleges. This proposal sought to merge the University of Baltimore with Morgan State University, which is the largest public historically black university; and it is only one of three possible strategies to develop more parity among the public colleges and universities in the state.
Previously, Blake had dismissed the initial call for more funding, under the argument that the state’s appropriations had already improved. In the most recent ruling, however, she shared support for the coalition’s proposal to create new academic niches among these historically black institutions in order to make them more competitive.
Addressing competition within the higher education ecosystem is becoming increasingly important in the United States. Some might argue that high school students are now under immense pressure to perform in school—taking as many advanced courses as possible and participating in as many diverse extra-curricular activities as possible—just to be admitted to those prestigious universities.
The connection, of course, is that the most prestigious schools in the country tend to admit more privileged students, which also means that these schools are probably most often attended by white students. As such, there has even been a call for schools to take a more “holistic approach” to education, a strategy which cultivates not only intelligence for the workplace but also a mindset and spirit of community.
Of course, attempting something like this puts pressure on the ethnic divide. Some white parents might prefer this holistic approach while traditional Asian parents—whose students make up approximately 65% of freshman enrollment at Ivy League schools like Princeton—have a fear that the strategy might dumb down education in a way, handicapping students who will need the discipline and smarts to survive in those most prestigious schools.
Not everyone needs a specialized education; for some, college is the first step to autonomy. Lowering our expectations will not help improve college education, but finding new ways to examine student enrollment might help to improve the experience for all college students.