by Daniel Bennett
I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed several initiatives aimed at increasing the success of black males in college, including the University of Georgia's African American Male Intiative, CUNY's Black Male Initiative, California State's African American Initiative, the Student African American Brotherhood, and several independent research efforts.
The statistics reveal that less than 1/3 of black males that enroll in college graduate within 6 years and that black women outnumber black men by a factor of nearly 2:1 in college. At first glance, these numbers appear rather appalling and lead some to suggest an educational system that is failing to make progress in educating black males. This includes the President of Benedict College, David Swinton, who professes that no one should be happy with the progress of black men in the university, despite evidence presented at a recent conference hosted by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, that the share of black men who had attained a degree had increased from 13% to 18% since the mid 1990s, an increase of 40%. Despite the overall negative tone in the article towards the progress of academic achievement by black males, progress has been made and there is reason to be optimistic going forward.
First of all, the statistics cited are in absolute terms and fail to cast any light on relative terms. Yes, it is true that more white students, as well as a larger percentage, attain a college education than do black students. However, it should be noted that the percentage of African Americans who have attained a degree has increased at a rate nearly double that of the white population in the past decade. Meanwhile, the proportion of Hispanics earning a college degree has increased by less than both the white and black populations. This should be an area of concern for a population that is growing at a very rapid pace in the US.
The subject of my master's thesis, and on-going research, was educational inequality in the US. One of the key findings of my empirical investigation suggests that the relationship between black population and educational inequality has changed over the past several decades. In 1980, there was a statistically significant positive relationship between the percentage of state's population that was black, and educational inequality, meaning that the greater the proportion of blacks in a state, the more inequality in 1980. Surprisingly, this relationship changed to a statistically significant negative one by 2000, meaning that states with a higher proportion of black population exhibited lower levels of educational inequality. While the research is on-going, I believe that this shift in paradigm can be explained, at least partially, by the greater access to college for black students in the past several decades, made possible by diversity initiatives by the colleges, as well as the increase in federally-funded financial aid programs.
The preceding paragraphs suggest that progress is being made towards improving educational opportunities for the nation's African American population. Some supporters of black male initiatives suggest that many in this group come from low-income families, have less access to post-secondary education, and that we need to direct more attention to this particular issue. While I do not dispute that access to the nation's colleges and universities needs to be expanded to children of low-income families, I believe that these sort of initiatives need to be directed towards all motivated and capable young people who grew up in similar circumstances, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. We must concern ourselves with educational opportunities for all disadvantaged youth and not target only one specific group, as this would be a counter-productive agenda in that it favors one group over others, especially if their socio-economic status is nearly identical. Our focus should be, instead, to provide educational opportunities for the most capable of the disadvantage youth.