During his 27-year tenure as president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Freeman Hrabowski III has helped convert the school into one that’s recognized for its success in research and instruction. In particular, UMBC been noted in helping students from diverse backgrounds graduate and find careers.
Hrabowski will share his thoughts on diversity in education when he delivers the keynote speech at the fourth annual Bay-to-Bay Learning Symposium Friday at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Hrabowski, who served as chairman for President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, said he’ll focus on a number of topics, starting with how higher education has changed in the U.S. in the last 50 years.
“Only about 10 percent of Americans in the 1960s had graduated from college and today it’s about 30 percent,” said Hrabowski. “Most educated people don’t realize that the majority of families today still haven’t had someone complete a four-year college education and many Americans don’t realize how important community colleges have become as a part of this spectrum of educational opportunities.”
“Very few people understand that forty-plus percent of Americans in four-year (colleges and universities) began in two-year institutions (like community colleges),” he added. “There is this growing and strengthening relationship between two and four-year institutions, with all kinds of opportunities for people with (Associate) degrees.”
Hrabowksi will also speak about the initiatives that have led to UMBC's recognition for its innovation in teaching and learning in research and science, particulary when it comes to increasing the number of women and minorities in computer-related and STEM majors and fields.
“Almost 85 percent of professors (in America) are white…even though the student body has become 35, 40 percent of color at the very least, and in some states (like Florida), much higher percentages than that,” said Hrabowski.
“It’s not just about what’s happening in education – the question is, bottom-line, where are we in our society?” he said. “When we look at the critical areas of our economy, from healthcare to the financial institutions, all the way to the intelligence community, we’ll find that there are small percentages of people of color in that work.”
Hrabowski says he’ll also share lessons learned from his own background growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. He was arrested at the age of 12 while taking part in the Children’s Crusade march for civil rights in 1963 and held in jail for five days.
“We were taught as children of color in Birmingham to not allow others to define who we were. At that time, we were treated miserably and yet we needed to understand just how important it was to have a sense of self and not to allow ourselves to simply be the victims,” he said.
“But we also learned the value of community, of supporting each other in very scary and challenging times, and to imagine how things could be much better,” said Hrabowski.