Where are the Black Men on Campus?
As institutions of higher education struggle to enroll Black men at comparable numbers to Black females, the imbalance is having an impact beyond the classroom and campus.
By most measures of a private college under new leadership, the push by Dillard University in New Orleans to boost its enrollment has amounted to a great success for the 4-year-old administration of current president Dr. Michael Lomax. From 1997 to the fall of 2000, Dillard grew its enrollment from 1,549 to 1,953 students, a 26 percent growth in the student body. At a recent symposium, Lomax, however, talked candidly about Dillard’s success and revealed a telling dimension about the enrollment numbers. It turns out that male enrollment at the private historically Black college increased from 381 to 436, a 14 percent jump. Female student enrollment, however, jumped from 1,168 to 1,517, a 30 percent increase. “Our enrollment growth has been a cause for celebration,” Lomax told the symposium audience before pointing out that the enrollment increase of only 55 men over four years had proved disappointing. “I’m deeply troubled by the trend we see among African American males not opting to attend college at the same pace of Black women,” Lomax said. The lament expressed by Lomax is one being made quite frequently by higher education officials around the nation. They report that a growing gap between the participation of Black men and Black women in higher education is leading to a pronounced imbalance between college-educated Black women and Black men and proving to alter the social dynamics of the Black community. The undergraduate campus imbalances between Black men and Black women show up at predominantly White schools and community colleges as prominently as it does on historically Black campuses, according to officials. Nationally, Black women in college outnumbered Black men in college 971,000 to 580,000 in 1997, which is a percentage split of 62.6 percent women and 37.4 percent men, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In 1984, 639,000 Black women attended college compared to 437,000 Black men, a 59.4 percent and 40.6 percent split. On historically Black campuses, Black women made up 61 percent, or 136,798, of the 223,895 African American students in 1997, compared to the 39 percent, or 87,097 Black male students.College administrators report that as college enrollment gaps grow between Black men and Black women they are seeing a decline in the quality of Black male/Black female relationships and a withdrawal of Black men from campus leadership positions. brothers not keeping up What particularly alarms African American leaders and higher education officials is that while Black women are scoring big gains in higher education, especially at the college level, the progress for Black men has either stagnated or increased only slightly from year to year over the last decade. This lack of progress is confounding to many because Black males are graduating from high school at rates equal to White males and are performing comparably well to Black women in the classroom and on standardized tests such as the SAT. In April, dozens of scholars and administrators gathered at Morehouse College in Atlanta, for “Reconnecting Males to Liberal Education: A National Symposium on Higher Education’s Shifting Gender Balance” to present and debate ideas as to why males are not choosing to pursue college at rates comparable to females. Scholars, who explored the data on African Americans, pointed to the high incidence of Black males entering the military; the availability of employment after high school; the disproportionately higher levels of incarceration among young Black men; and the lack of familiarity with the college environment as likely reasons to explain the lag in Black males’ pursuit of a college education.According to the U.S. Department of Education, among the 1,949,000 Black women from age 18 to 24 completing high school in 1997, 33 percent of them enrolled in college while only 25 percent of the 1,701,000 Black males from age 18 to 24 completing high school in 1997 entered college. Lomax says successfully recruiting Black male students to institutions such as Dillard requires officials to play close attention to the social and economic circumstances that shape students’ lives. He added that many emergent cultural and social obstacles have made it tougher than ever for higher education institutions to reach young Black men. “Incarceration does play a role. I think popular culture is playing a role. Some of the people young Black men look up to are not sending the message that college is the thing to do,” Lomax says.
Campus challengesWhile the task of recruiting young Black men to college has grown increasingly complex, higher education officials and administrators have continued to struggle to increase the retention of Black students. Not surprisingly, Black males experience lower retention rates than their female counterparts. Nationally, Black men had a full-time undergraduate degree completion rate of 34.4 percent compared to Black women at 43.5 percent, according to 1997 U.S. Department of Education data.Dr. Michael J. Cuyjet, an associate professor in the educational and counseling psychology department at the University of Louisville, says research documenting the college experiences of Black men and Black women has suggested that males in academic trouble are less likely to seek help than females. “What happens is that women are more likely to collaborate. Men haven’t learned to be collaborative. Women are more likely to get help from others. Men are conditioned to go it alone,” Cuyjet says. Cuyjet, who is the editor and author of the book Helping African American Men Succeed in College, says solutions for boosting college retention among African American males have to focus on helping them feel comfortable in seeking academic assistance. One of the more troublesome aspects of the Black male/Black female population imbalance on campuses shows up in the decliningquality of relationships. Administrators say that the young men, who are outnumbered by women by margins of 2-to-1 and higher, tend to take advantage of the women who have limited dating options. Young Black women are said to tolerate less than ideal behavior from the Black men.“With a ratio of 3-to-1 (of female to male students) and getting larger, we have seen an increase in the incidents of abuse of women by men on our campus,” Lomax says of Dillard University. Dr. Lee Jones, associate dean of the college of education at Florida State University, says he believes that young Black men are not learning to handle themselves in ways that demonstrate courtesy to the women they date. “These young men are not managing relationships in a way that’s respectable to the women,” Jones says. A number of campus administrators point out that as the population of Black men has declined in proportion to the population of Black women, on many campuses there has been a tendency among men to withdraw from campus organizations, particularly with the Black student groups. Campus administrators say this withdrawal leaves young males to feel less and less connected to their schools.In addressing retention and campus life issues, University of Louisville’s Cuyjet points to the emergence of Black male support groups as a promising development from the last decade.Groups such as the Student African American Brotherhood organization and others have sprung up to provide a campus haven for African American males to build trust among one another and to obtain academic help.“I maintain that not every Black male needs a support group. I think schools should offer a safe haven to provide that alternative for young men who may need it,” Cuyjet says.
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