Black American Males in Higher Education: Diminishing Proportions: Volume 6

Cover of Black American Males in Higher Education: Diminishing Proportions

Table of contents

(20 chapters)

This sixth volume in the Diversity in Higher Education Series is the first of two that specifically addresses the subject of the disproportional decline of Black American males in higher education. As editors, the three of us viewed this topic as so critical and in need of more acknowledgment regarding its serious nature. Though we initially wanted to publish such a volume a year earlier, all three of us had position changes and subsequent workloads that interfered with our devoting time to the project; however, we kept receiving queries as to when could there be an expected publication date for this volume. Given the consistent interest and encouragement, and our own internal need to finish the volume, we forged ahead. This volume and the following one were compelling projects that we sought to complete in spite of the many competing factors for our time. The result is a volume that we believe is better than what we would have produced a year ago.

Volume 6: Black American Males in Higher Education: Diminishing Proportions is a compilation of 14 chapters based on the work conducted by a distinguished group of researchers and educators from nine predominantly White universities, one historically Black university, and three community colleges as well as a major national teacher education association. In addition to providing data, both current and historical, on the participation of Black American males in higher education, the chapters present a candid assessment of some of the factors that have contributed to the proportional decline of their participation.

The first element contributing to the low number of African American men in college is the set of factors that cause Black men to not even consider applying or enrolling. In this volume, Launcelot Brown, Malick Koyate, and Rodney Hopson explore why so many Black men fail to grasp the opportunity to go to college while Rhonda Sharpe and William Darity examine some specific factors affecting the decision not to enroll. Also, Candace Baldwin, Jodi Fisler, and James Patton delineate issues linked to the status and perceptions of Black men in society as a whole that contribute to their absence from our campuses.

Black slavery and white racism in the South and the nation, de jure and de facto Jim Crow, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed separate schools, “massive resistance” to it (Klarman, 1994, p. 82), plus racial disparities in educational achievement since 1954, all frame this narrative of black males' quest for higher education. Bondmen were denied literacy and black freemen rarely attended school, much less pursue advanced study, during the antebellum period. Union victory in the Civil War, abolition of slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), and Reconstruction marked the rise of not only Negro schools and colleges but also southern share cropping, called “the new slavery” (Du Bois, 1935, p. 715), and epidemic violence against blacks that imposed their disfranchisement and segregation, by laws and customs, until the 1960s. Thus African American males sought collegiate and professional training in a national milieu of white supremacy, which postulated black men's mental and moral inferiority but ignored their widespread poverty, separation, and unequal opportunities. Confined in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), they breached the color-line little by little at white institutions, thereby paving the way for Brown, the civil rights movement, and desegregation. In the second half of the 20th century, HBCUs and the majority-white institutions trained increasing numbers of black male graduates and professionals. By 1980 though, only some 11 percent of young black men had received 4 years of college compared to 25.5 percent of young white men (Jaynes & Williams, 1989). An “achievement gap” was evident and it persists today (Lee, 2002, p. 3), revealing the deep roots of race and class inequality in America. White racism, its legal and extralegal forms, and black aspirations and efforts underlay and continue to fuel black men's drive for higher learning. Over time black men, and certainly women as well, faced racist structures, ideologies, and attitudes born of slavery; sub-citizenship, stereotypes, and terror, among other barriers, through a century of Jim Crow; and after Brown, ongoing discrimination, socioeconomic disadvantages, and ambiguous “affirmative action” policies (Jaynes & Williams, 1989, p. 376).

Researcher Highlight: Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)

In 1980, there were 1,106.8 million African Americans enrolled in college. Of this number, 463,700 were males and 643,100 were females. In other words, among African Americans enrolled in higher education, 58.1% were female. By the year 2004, of the 2,164.7 million African Americans enrolled in higher education, 65% were female. Thus, between 1980 and 2004, the gender gap in higher education within the African American community increased by nearly 7 percentage points. What happened to African American males? Why are they not enrolling in higher education at higher rates?

Higher proportions of females than males currently attain tertiary education in the United States where completing high school is the prerequisite for gaining access to postsecondary education (Buchmann, DiPrete, & McDaniel, 2008; Horn & Premo, 1995). Since 1970, women went from being the minority to the majority of the United States undergraduate population, increasing their representation in higher education from 42 percent of undergraduates in 1970 to 56 in 2001 (Freeman, 2004; Peter & Horn, 2005). Although there were more men than women ages 18–24 in the United States (15 vs. 14.2 million) in 2004, the male/female ratio on college campuses was 43–57, a reversal from the late 1960s and well beyond the nearly even splits of the mid-1970s (Marklein, 2005). Male–female ratios differ among colleges, with some US institutions now having ratios approaching two-thirds of women. It is projected that by 2010, 9.4 million women will be enrolled in college, compared with only 6.8 million men, a ratio of about 41 men to 59 women (NACUFS, 2007).

This article assesses the educational attainment of african american males between the 1990s and early 2000s. Beginning with a summary of a 1987–1988 study conducted by the author on african american males in the new orleans public schools, national data are provided on the high school graduation rates of african american males and females, as well as trends in their enrollment and degree completion at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional levels. The data show a growing educational disparity between african american women and men in all higher education institutions, but also in public and private historically black colleges and universities. The author offers recommendations to improve the performance, enrollment and graduation rates of african american males in order to close the current college gender gap.

The proportional diminution of African American males in higher education is a complex societal issue and, as with most complex issues, defies simple solutions. The complexity of the issue is grounded in a less than humane history and the resulting social, cultural, economic, emotional, mental, and spiritual factors that to varying degrees have been shaped by that history (interview with Wilson, 1997). These factors are intimately and intricately interwoven into one another forming a whole that is not easy to analyze and characterize.

There has been much discussion, but little research about why African American males do not attend and or complete a college education. We examine the alternatives that might reduce or compete with the decision to complete a college education. We analyze the number of men incarcerated, trends in labor force participation, and occupation and wages by educational attainment. We find that even when the number of 18–24-year-old African American males incarcerated increased, the number of 18–24-year-old African American males enrolled in college had a larger increase suggesting that incarceration is not a plausible explanation for the growth rate in degree attainment for African American males. We find that the decrease in the overall percentage and in the percentage of 18–24-year-old African American males reporting employed as their labor force status and the increase in the percentage for these groups reporting not in the labor force and unemployed may have an impact on the college degree completion. Additionally, an increasing percentage of African American males have an associate's or bachelor's degree, but there was a larger percentage change in the percent of African American males with some college. African American males with some college earn significantly less than those with an associate's or bachelor's degree, but earn significantly more than African American women with some college or an associate's degree. This supports Dunn's (1988) finding that African American males do not invest in college because they desire “quick money.” The earnings differential between African American males and females may also explain the degree attainment gap, as it is the African American females with a bachelor's degree that earn significantly more than African American males with some college.

Our analyses and conclusions are based on both research literature on college access for African American males and the survey responses of 214,951 full-time, first-time African American male freshmen between 1971 and 2004. First, we reviewed literature on the experiences of African American male high-school students and the common barriers facing their matriculation to college. We organized findings from the research into broad themes emerging from the literature, guided by Swail, Cabrera, Lee, and Williams's Integrated Model for Student Success (2005). Based on this framework, college access and academic achievement are not based on a single factor or one dimension; rather, they are constructed through a complex interaction of multiple dimensions. Swail and colleagues delineate these factors into three categories: cognitive, social, and institutional/systemic. Cognitive factors take place largely inside the student and relate to the skills, abilities, and knowledge students have which prepare them for higher education, including academic preparation, post-secondary planning, and college knowledge (Swail, Redd, & Perna, 2003; Swail et al., 2005). Social factors exist largely outside the student, and capture the ways in which those who have relationships with students can influence their access to post-secondary education. The social dimension includes a student's cultural history, family influence, financial issues and socioeconomic status, and ability to interact with peers (Swail, 2003; Swail et al., 2005). Finally the institutional/systemic dimension captures the ability of institutions to influence and shape student efforts to reach their college goals. High-school resources and support, outreach programs, and opportunities for financial aid could all be considered within this dimension of the framework (Swail, 2003; Swail et al., 2005).

Access to higher education for Black men has increased since the 1980s, yet they are not enrolling or graduating from institutions of higher education (IHE) at a rate comparable to that of their female counterparts. Black males represent a mere 36 percent of the Black college student population in all IHEs and only 32 percent in historically Black colleges and universities. Research shows that the problems on many college campuses can be linked to the status and perceptions of Black men in society as a whole, lack of financial assistance, inadequate learning and supportive environments, and insufficient culturally appealing venues for student engagement. This chapter will delineate the salient factors that affect the success of Black men in higher education and will offer strategies that IHEs can use to increase the success of their Black male students.

This chapter focuses on successful strategies for increasing the number of males who enter and succeed in science at the college level. These strategies reflect lessons we have learned over the years from the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, launched in 1989, for high-achieving African American students in science and engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

The twenty-first century will be dominated by technological change as the United States competes in an increasingly interdependent world. If the United States is to maintain its technological leadership, an inclusive engineering education is required. Engineering impacts many important aspects of day-to-day life from the environment to national security and half of our graduate degrees in engineering are granted to foreign nationals. While this influx of creative talent enriches the academic community, the underutilization of domestic talent threatens the engineering enterprise with professional shortages in university classrooms, research facilities, and corporate boardrooms. We are simultaneously challenged with addressing the shrinking pool of African-American males in higher education. The challenge is daunting but not insurmountable. Many African-American students have aspirations for engineering without the preparation and the community college is well suited to provide the bridge between aspiration and accomplishment. Community colleges serve 46% of all African-American students in higher education and there are exemplary programs that have tapped the underdeveloped resources in the African-American community. One example is the Emerson Minority Engineering Scholarship Program. By utilizing best practices, this program has helped to increase the pool of African-American engineers by providing opportunities to students who may have made other academic choices. This paper reviews persistence literature and discusses the challenges and strategies in developing a community college-based minority engineering program.

The authors draw upon the African proverb: “How Do You Eat an Elephant?” One Bite at a Time to couch emerging practices and programs connected to and within California community colleges that are specifically designed to counter historical and topical institutional neglect and exclusion one initiative at a time. To this end, we discuss the Umoja Community, Men of Ujima Manhood Development Program, and the African American Male Educational Network and Development (A2MEND) organization. The authors maintain that the study of Black men in general is in need of its own theoretical framework that can articulate their position and trajectory in the world drawing on and accounting for their pre- and post-enslavement experiences while capturing their spiritual, psychological, social, educational development and station. Thus, we first build upon critical race theory (CRT) and African-centered theory to construct an emergent conceptual approach that more accurately articulates the experiences of African American men in community colleges and that both explains the existence of the aforementioned independent educational programs and organizations and provides the framework to produce and maintain additional self-determined spaces. Beyond theory and research, however, the authors call community college educators to a personal accountability and action to create spaces, initiatives, programs, organizations, and institutions based on the conceptual framework outlined in this current chapter.

Community college African American male student enrollment and academic success is diminishing. The authors explore the importance and wisdom of mentoring programs for African American males attending community colleges. The chapter considers issues of student persistence and retention and how they relate to effective community college mentoring programs. Specifically, the authors discuss how community college mentoring programs can counteract inherent obstacles for African American students attending commuter style campuses. A description of how some community colleges successfully engage African American male students in order to achieve Kuh's four attributes of a supportive college environment and to overcome the issues of college departure -- being first-generation college students, lacking academic self-concept, no or minimal institutional engagement with students, and no or minimal student involvement student involvement on campus – is provided. The authors highlight successful community college programs which include the national “Students African American Brotherhood” program, Santa Fe College's “My Brother's Keeper,” the North Carolina Community College System, and Hillsborough Community College's Collegiate 100.

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Diversity in Higher Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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