College: An impossible dream for Black males?

caines | 9/6/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Few mentors, rising costs just two reasons for this crisis

The news about Black men in higher education is all too familiar and its a sad litany. Just walk the campus of almost any college and youll notice a cluster of Black women eating lunch, engaged with instructors in their classrooms or huddled among the stacks in the library. What you wont see are an equal number of Black males. Statistics from a recent report, the National Black Male College Achievement Study, show that in 1976, Black males were less than 4 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. In 2012, that number is still the same. The report also indicates that among those Black males that do make it to college, the majority of them are less prepared than their peers for the rigors of advanced academic work. Their graduation rates, as one might expect, are the lowest of all major racial and ethnic groups in the country. Even when one considers historically Black colleges and universities [HBCUs], Black male students are noticeably scarce. Based on the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, the national college graduation rate for Black men is 33.1 percent compared with 44.8 percent for Black women. The total graduation rate is 57.3 percent. Whats more, Black men, while representing 7.9 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in the U.S., only account for 2.8 percent of undergraduates at public universities. It is this gap that virtually guarantees that Black males will continue to have less earning power even as they confront an unemployment rate of 17.3 percent nearly double the national rate of 9.5 percent. But here in Florida, rather than continue to repeat the bad news, college presidents, deans and program directors say they are putting all of their energies into turning this crisis of national proportion around.

New B-CU president: Lamenting is not the answer

Since his arrival at Bethune-Cookman University in mid-May, Interim President Dr. Edison O. Jackson, 69, says he has worked to change the mindset and culture of his students. And while he admits there are differences between the tasks he once performed as president of Medgar Evers College - CUNY and his current position, what hasnt changed is the precarious situation facing young, Black males. I remember looking out into a sea of students one day and realizing that there werent many Black males, he said. Like everyone else, I complained for awhile. Soon it occurred to me that I was the Universitys president surely I could do something about it. I created the first male initiative and we were able to increase both male enrollment and retention. Well be starting a similar program here at B-CU in the spring. Our public schools are failing out children. We need to create new recruitment and retention strategies and once students get here we must ensure that there are appropriate support structures including mentoring so that they have a sense of connection to the academic enterprise. It doesnt do any good if you bring kids to college and then they become so disillusioned from their experiences that they are back on the streets less than a year later. Resurrecting a college of freshman program and hiring a seasoned dean to oversee it as well as re-instituting an honors college are just a few of the innovative things Jackson has brought to the University. On Wednesdays we now have dress up day so that we can change the culture and begin to model different forms of behavior, he added. Success should not be strange to our students. Its all about raising the standards both in and out of the classroom, shifting the atmosphere and providing our students with new kinds of experiences. Like The Pointer Sisters said, weve got a new attitude.