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HCC needs community's help to help solve this problem

April 05, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

This past Sunday The Herald-Mail's Tiffany Arnold reported on a state study that showed that in the nine years between 1995 and 2004, the number of black students earning associate degrees at Hagerstown Community College dropped by almost half.

In their defense, HCC officials said the Maryland Higher Education Commission's study concluded a year before 2005, when HCC had a record number of black graduates.

But Arnold noted that almost half of those 45 graduates received certificates, which often involve only a one-year program and may not qualify the graduate to go on to a four-year college.

The number of black students receiving A.A. degrees in 2005 was 23, the same as in 1995, when the MHEC study began.

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Though HCC President Guy Altieri said "We are working very, very hard to increase those numbers," the study suggests that the college may need some help to get this job done.

At this point, unless you're the parent of an African-American student, you might be saying, "Why does this concern me?"

Because, unless all students can make educational progress, we face the possibility that we will have to pay for another generation of impoverished people, as opposed to creating a new group of productive, taxpaying citizens.

That was the message author Paul Slocumb brought to the Washington County School System's Minority Achievement Task Force in 2004.

Slocumb, co-author of "Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty," told the task force that improving student achievement "is not a school issue - it is a community issue."

The second reason for white parents to encourage this progress is that at some point, their children may leave the area for a job in a diverse company. Their sons and daughters may even have a person of color as a supervisor. If they don't learn now how to interact with people different from those with whom they grew up, they may have serious, career-threatening problems later.

So how does the community help improve this situation?

There are several ways, including:

Find a way to recruit and retain black faculty members.

As Arnold's story noted, there hasn't been more than one person of color on HCC's faculty in the past 10 years. That meant that this fall there were 69 full-time white faculty members and no black members.

What this does was brought home to me in 2005, when I interviewed William Emanuel, an African-American who has taught algebra at HCC.

It can be frustrating, Emanuel said, for young men of color to go to school and not see any teachers or professors who look like them. They begin to believe that education is not for them, he said.

In my view, it would be better to "grow" minority faculty here, because, without ties to the community, they might be tempted to take their expertise to institutions that pay more.

There should be specific scholarships for black graduates of local high schools who would agree to work here after they get their teaching certificates. Back in 1999, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education told me it might be possible to create "signing bonuses" for such home-grown teachers.

Keep those graduates here. That will be another task altogether. When I wrote about recruiting minority faculty in the Washington County Public Schools in the late 1990s, one of the things officials told me made it so difficult was that there were so few minorities here.

To aid recruiting in Frederick County, officials enlisted the help of the NAACP, a black professional women's group and an Elks Lodge to create a list of black-owned businesses and other resources, such as churches.

Hagerstown has already begun putting together a list of minority-owned businesses, so if HCC's Multicultural Committee can get some help from other local groups, new black faculty members might find there is more here than they can see at first glance.

Acknowledge that this is not just the college's problem to solve, but the community's as well. If prospective new employers don't feel that this county welcomes people regardless of race, and that their black executives will only be marking time until they can get a transfer, those firms may choose not to come here at all.

We're all in this together, and the sooner we begin treating this as a shared and urgent priority, the better off we'll be.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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