Minority Report

American universities are accepting more minorities than ever. Graduating them is another matter.

By Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert | NEWSWEEK

Published Feb 19, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Mar 1, 2010

Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College, was justifiably proud of Bowdoin’s efforts to recruit minority students. Since 2003 the small, elite liberal-arts school in Brunswick, Maine, has boosted the proportion of so-called underrepresented minority students (blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, about 30 percent of the U.S. population) in entering freshman classes from 8 percent to 13 percent. “It is our responsibility, given our place in the world, to reach out and attract students to come to our kinds of places,” he told a NEWSWEEK reporter. But Bowdoin has not done quite as well when it comes to actually graduating minorities. While nine out of 10 white students routinely get their diplomas within six years, only seven out of 10 black students made it to graduation day in several recent classes.

The picture of diversity—black, white, and brown students cavorting or studying together out on the quad—is a stock shot in college catalogs. The picture on graduation day is a good deal more monochromatic. “If you look at who enters college, it now looks like America,” says Hilary Pennington, director of postsecondary programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has closely studied enrollment patterns in higher education. “But if you look at who walks across the stage for a diploma, it’s still largely the white, upper-income population.”

The United States once had the highest graduation rate of any nation. Now it stands 10th. For the first time in American history, there is the risk that the rising generation will be less well educated than the previous one. The graduation rate among 25- to 34-year-olds is no better than the rate for the 55- to 64-year-olds who were going to college more than 30 years ago. Studies show that more and more poor and nonwhite students aspire to graduate from -college—but their graduation rates fall far short of their dreams. The graduation rates for blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans lag far be-hind the graduation rates for whites and Asians. As the minority population grows in the United States, low college–graduation rates become a threat to national -prosperity.

The problem is pronounced at public universities. In 2007 (the last year for which Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group, has comparative statistics) the University of Wisconsin–-Madison—one of the top five or so “public Ivies”—graduated 81 percent of its white students within six years, but only 56 percent of its blacks. At less-selective state schools, the numbers get worse. During the same time frame, the University of Northern Iowa graduated 67 percent of its white students, but only 39 percent of its blacks. Community colleges have low graduation rates generally—but rock-bottom rates for minorities. A recent review of California community colleges found that while a third of the Asian students picked up their degrees, only 15 percent of African-Americans did so as well.

Private colleges and universities generally do better, partly because they offer smaller classes and more personal attention. But when it comes to a significant graduation gap, Bowdoin has company. Nearby Colby College logged an 18-point difference between white and black graduates in 2007 and 25 points in 2006. Middlebury College in Vermont, another topnotch school, had a 19-point gap in 2007 and a 22-point gap in 2006. The most selective private schools—-Harvard, Yale, and -Princeton—show almost no gap between black and white graduation rates. But that may have more to do with their ability to cherry-pick the best students. According to data gathered by Harvard Law School professor Lani Guinier, the most selective schools are more likely to choose blacks who have at least one immigrant parent from Africa or the Caribbean than black students who are descendants of American slaves. According to Guinier’s data, the latter perform less well academically.

“Higher education has been able to duck this issue for years, particularly the more selective schools, by saying the onus is on the individual student,” says Pennington of the Gates Foundation. “If they fail, it’s their fault.” Some critics blame affirmative action—students admitted with lower test scores and grades from shaky high schools often struggle at elite schools. But a bigger problem may be that poor high schools often send their students to colleges for which they are, in educators’ jargon, “undermatched”: they could get into more elite, richer schools, but instead go to community colleges and low-rated state schools that lack the resources to help them. Some schools out for profit cynically jack up tuitions and count on student loans and federal aid to foot the bill—knowing full well that the students won’t make it. “Colleges know that a lot of kids they take will end up in remedial classes, for which they’ll get no college credit and then they’ll flunk out,” says Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust. “The school gets to keep the money, but the kid leaves with loads of debt and no degree and no ability to get a better job. Colleges are not holding up their end.”

A college education is getting ever more expensive. Since 1982 tuitions have been rising at roughly twice the rate of inflation. University administrators insist that most of those hikes are matched by increased scholarship grants or loans, but the recession has slashed private endowments and cut into state spending on high-er education. In 2008 the net cost of attending a four-year public -university—after financial aid—equaled 28 percent of median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of median family income. More and more scholarships are based on merit, not need. Poorer students are not always the best-informed consumers. Often they wind up deeply in debt or simply unable to pay after a year or two and must drop out.

There once was a time when universities took a perverse pride in their attrition rates. Professors would begin the year by saying, “Look to the right and look to the left. One of you is not going to be here by the end of the year.” But such a Darwinian spirit is beginning to give way as at least a few colleges face up to the graduation gap. At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the gap has been roughly halved over the last three years. The university has poured resources into peer counseling to help students from inner-city schools adjust to the rigor and faster pace of a university classroom—and also to help minority students overcome the stereotype that they are less qualified. Wisconsin has a “laserlike focus” on building up student skills in the first three months, according to vice provost Damon Williams.

State and federal governments could sharpen that focus everywhere by broadly publishing minority graduation rates. (For now students and counselors must find their way to the Web site of the Educational Trust, which compares data obtained from schools by the federal government.) For years private colleges such as Princeton and MIT have had success bringing minorities onto campus in the summer before freshman year to give them a head start on college-level courses. The newer trend is to start recruiting poor and nonwhite students as early as the seventh grade, using innovative tools like hip-hop competitions to identify kids with sophisticated verbal finesse. Such programs can be expensive, of course, but cheap compared with the millions already invested in scholarships and grants for kids who have little chance to graduate without special support.

With effort and money, the graduation gap can be closed. Washington and Lee is a small, selective school with a preppy feel in Lexington, Va. Its student body is less than 5 percent black and less than 2 percent Latino. While the school usually graduated about 90 percent of its whites, the graduation rate of its blacks and Latinos had dipped to 63 percent by 2007. “We went through a dramatic shift,” says Dawn Watkins, the vice president for student affairs. The school aggressively pushed mentoring of minorities by other students and “partnering” with parents at a special pre-enrollment session. The school had its first-ever black homecoming. Last spring the school graduated the same proportion of minorities as it did whites. If the United States wants to keep up in the global economic race, it will have to pay systematic attention to graduating minorities, not just enrolling them.

Find this article at http://www.newsweek.com/id/233843

Minority Report

Daniel Rubin: Arabic flash cards got him detained at airport

Daniel Rubin: Arabic flash cards got him detained at airport

By Daniel Rubin

Inquirer Columnist

A federal agent sizing up Nick George might peg him as Most Likely To Be Recruited By The CIA. He’s a physics major at a top college, he minors in Middle Eastern studies, speaks Arabic, has lived in Jordan and is adventurous enough to have backpacked through Sudan and Egypt.

At Philadelphia International Airport last August, his interest in the world got him handcuffed.

The Wyncote native was detained for five hours after Transportation Security Administration screeners grew suspicious about something in his pockets.

Arabic-language flash cards.

George, who was 21 at the time, and about to fly back for his senior year at Pomona College in Claremont, Ca., says he answered every question to the best of his abilities, and figured he’d be quickly sent on his way.

But what questions…

According to a federal suit filed Wednesday on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, a TSA supervisor asked him, “How do you feel about 9/11?”

He said he hemmed and hawed a bit. “It’s a complicated question,” he told me by phone. “But I ended up saying, ‘It was bad. I am against it.’ “

He was asked if he knew who “did 9/11.”

He answered, Osama bin Laden.

Then he was asked, “Do you know what language he spoke?”

George answered, Arabic.”

The supervisor then held up his flash cards. “Do you see why these cards are suspicious?”

To George, they weren’t suspicious at all. He was using them to translate Al Jazeera, whose coverage in Arabic he considers critical to understanding America’s place in the world. The 200 cards included words for “terrorist” and “explosion,” George said. His interest in the Middle East came not from 9/11 but from watching Lawrence of Arabia with his father, Paul George, a Philadelphia attorney and former public defender.

Nick George says he started taking classes in Middle Eastern history, politics and languages while at Pomona. He spent a semester in Amman. He has applied for a State Department program that encourages the study of Arabic and he has plans to take the Foreign Service exam after college.

He says he did the right thing when questioned.

“My mentality was, ‘Do what they say, and pretty soon they’ll see this is ridiculous and let you go,” he said by phone. “That was my mentality until they put the handcuffs on me. Then it was surreal.”

TSA called the Philadelphia Police, who marched him through the airport to a small office where he sat for more than an hour in cuffs, awaiting FBI agents.

In the suit he contends the agents asked him if he was an Islamist or a Communist. He said no. After about 20 minutes they released him. He missed his flight that day.

Neither the TSA nor the Philadelphia Police would comment yesterday, given that legal action was pending. But in a September Daily News column, TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said behavioral-detection officers had selected the student for screening even before the flash cards were discovered. Those officers are trained to look for “involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered,” she said.

George says he cannot imagine what they mean – he was calm.

A police official, meanwhile, was quoted as saying it was George’s ID in Arabic that caught their attention – from his Jordanian studies – and police were suspicious that the student’s hair was shorter that day than it was in his Pennsylvania driver’s license photo. “That,” Lt. Louis Liberati said, is “an indication sometimes that somebody may have gone through a radicalization.”

Candace Putter, George’s mother, thinks that’s an amazing statement. She is a longtime advocate for teens in trouble with the law. She said she came of age in the 1960s, when long hair was associated with a different sort of radicalism.

“You can’t change the world on me that completely,” she said, laughing.

Putter said said she understands in the post-9/11 world why security officers would pay attention to someone who had been to Muslim countries and was learning Arabic. So can Mary Catherine Roper, George’s ACLU attorney. So can I.

“Clearly we want them to be paying attention,” Cutter said. “But we want them to be paying smart attention.”

Security technologist Bruce Schneier was less polite.

“This is just stupid,” he said. “There’s no other way to explain it. Someone saw these Arabic language cards and just freaked. It should have taken TSA 15 seconds.”

The problem, he said, was that there is no cost to the security agent for doing the wrong thing. “If I detain someone and he’s not a terrorist, nothing happens to me. I’m probably praised. If I let him go, and he is, my career is over. The TSA incentive is to overreact. Terrorism can’t do this to us. I think only we can do this to ourselves.”

Daniel Rubin: Arabic flash cards got him detained at airport

U.S. Pentagon Cyberwar Strategy: Secret Cyberweapons


The China-U.S. diplomatic spat over cyberattacks on Google has highlighted the growing significance of the Internet as a theater of combat. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn recently warned of its appeal to foes who are unable to match the U.S.’s conventional military might. An enemy country could deploy hackers to take down U.S. financial systems, communications and infrastructure, he suggested, at a cost far below that of building a trillion-dollar fleet of fifth-generation jet fighters. “Knowing this, many militaries are developing offensive cyber capabilities,” Lynn said. “Some governments already have the capacity to disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure.” (On Tuesday, the nation’s top intelligence official warned that cyber-enemies have “severely threatened” U.S. computer systems. “Malicious cyber activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication,” Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee.) (Comment on this story)

What U.S. officials don’t like to acknowledge is that the Pentagon is hard at work developing an offensive cyber capability of its own. In fact, it has even begun using that capability to wage war. Beyond merely shutting down enemy systems, the U.S. military is crafting a witch’s brew of stealth, manipulation and falsehoods designed to lure the enemy into believing he is in charge of his forces when in fact they have been secretly enlisted as allies of the U.S. military. And some in Washington fear that there hasn’t been sufficient debate over the proper role of U.S. cyberweapons that are now being secretly developed. (See the Top 10 Most Expensive Military Planes.)

Pentagon officials acknowledge privately that such work is under way, though nearly all of it is classified. The recent creation of U.S. Cyber Command shows that the U.S. military is taking this mission seriously. “You have to be very careful about what you say in this area,” says a top cyberwarrior of the Pentagon. “But you can tell there’s something going on because the services are putting their money there and contractors are going after it in a big way.”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff want the ability to destroy an enemy’s computer network “so badly that it cannot perform any function,” according to the handbook on what the Pentagon calls “Information Operations.” The U.S. military wants to keep foes “from accessing and using critical information, systems and services” and to spoof adversaries “by manipulating their perception of reality.” Just how such wizardry is to be accomplished is contained in a classified supplement. But hints can be gleaned in a trickle of contracts and budget documents, larded with geek-speak, that have begun seeping onto the public record. (See pictures of technological advances in the military.)

The Air Force wants the ability to burrow into any computer system anywhere in the world “completely undetected.” It wants to slip computer code into a potential foe’s computer and let it sit there for years, “maintaining a ‘low and slow’ gathering paradigm” to thwart detection. Clandestinely exploring such networks, the Dominant Cyber Offensive Engagement program’s goal is to “stealthily exfiltrate information” in hopes it might “discover information with previously unknown existence.” The U.S. cyberwarriors’ goal: “complete functional capabilities” of an enemy’s computer network – from U.S. military keyboards. The Army is developing “techniques that capture and identify data traversing enemy networks for the purpose of Information Operations or otherwise countering adversary communications.” And the Navy is developing “a non-lethal, non-attributable system designed to offer non-kinetic offensive information operation solutions,” according to Pentagon budget documents. (See how cyberwar was envisioned in 1995.)

Yet concepts that have regulated war forever, such as deterrence and attribution, are slippery or missing in cyberspace. National boundaries don’t exist, making moot the question of sovereignty. Asymmetries abound: defenders must defend everything, all the time, while an attacker can prevail by exploiting a single vulnerability. Tracking down the source of cybersabotage, routed like a skipping stone through a series of innocent servers, can be all but impossible. Are the attackers curious teenagers, criminal gangs, a foreign power – or, more likely, a criminal gang sponsored by a foreign power? Deterrence becomes meaningless when the identity of an attacker is unknown. (See an invasion of Chinese cyberspies.)

“We’re in the stage before warfare,” cyberwarfare expert James Lewis told a Washington audience on Jan. 27. “We’re in the stages of people poking around.” Lewis, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said cyberdefenses are inadequate. “Unless we find a way to use offensive capabilities as part of a deterrence or strategic defense,” he said, “we will be unable to defeat these opponents.” CSIS also released last week a survey of cybersecurity experts from around the world who “rank the U.S. as the country ‘of greatest concern’ in the context of foreign cyberattacks, just ahead of China.”

It’s the instantaneous nature of cyberattacks that has rendered defenses against them obsolete. Once an enemy finds a chink in U.S. cyberarmor and opts to exploit it, it will be too late for the U.S. to play defense (it takes 300 milliseconds for a keystroke to travel halfway around the world). Far better to be on the prowl for cybertrouble and – with a few keystrokes or by activating secret codes long ago secreted in a prospective foe’s computer system – thwart any attack. Cyberdefense “never works” by itself, says the senior Pentagon officer. “There has to be an element of offense to have a credible defense.”

Such cyberbattles are already happening in miniature. In Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. cyberwarriors are hard at work denying enemy commanders the ability to direct their forces, the senior Pentagon officer says. “I shut it down, take away your electricity, take away the radio, infect your phone,” he explains. “Now you don’t know where I’m coming from, or if you do, you can’t tell the rest of your force what’s going on.” More insidiously, the U.S. can doctor the information the foe gets. “I can alter the messages coming across,” he says.

But there is mounting concern that U.S. offensive capability in cyberspace is growing too fast and too secretly. “I have no doubt we’re doing some very profoundly sophisticated things on the attack side,” says William Owens, a retired Navy admiral and cyberwar expert who led a federal study on U.S. offensive cyberwarfare last year. “But that is little realized by many people in Congress or the Administration.” That study, by the National Research Council, concluded that “the U.S. armed forces are actively preparing to engage in cyberattacks, and may have done so in the past.” But it added that a lack of public debate has led to “ill-formed, undeveloped and highly uncertain” policies regarding its use, which could lead the U.S. to stumble inadvertently into a cyberwar.

U.S. Pentagon Cyberwar Strategy: Secret Cyberweapons