In an effort to address the needs of Black and Latinx men in higher education, male resource centers have been looking to increase belonging, persistence, and graduation rates.
“You can see that there are gender disparities across higher ed — outcomes, enrollment — and generally find that men have worse outcomes than women,” says Dr. Su Jin Jez, CEO of California Competes, a nonpartisan policy and research organization focused on identifying solutions to California’s most critical higher education and workforce issues. There are 116 community colleges in California.
Jez says the three-year transfer rate is about 13% for men and 17% for women, and the differential holds across most racial and ethnic groups. For Latinx men, it is 10% versus 14% for Latinx women. There is also a gap in bachelor’s degree attainment, 35% for men and 40% for women.
“The resource centers serve as one-stops with many tailored supports that can help male students of color find a sense of purpose because it typically will include things like mentorship, academic support, career exploration, leadership development opportunities, and peer support networks,” says Jez.
Addressing the need
Queensborough Community College (QCC), a two-year institution in the City University of New York system, conducted an equity audit that showed there were retention and graduation disparities for male students overall, with Black and Latinx male students disproportionately impacted. In mid-August, QCC officially opened its male/men's resource center (MRC), which is dedicated to increasing the retention and graduation rates of male students, particularly self-identified Black and Latinx male students who are disproportionately impacted by equity gaps in student outcomes.
“The college recognized that the campus needed a safe space for males to get together, interact and learn from each other as well as to access resources,” says Jamal Biggs, director of the QCC MRC. “The center provides students with the opportunity to connect with resources that are available for them on campus, but to do it in a low stakes environment where there [isn’t] a lot of pressure for them to connect with these resources.”
Seventy percent of Black men in California pursuing higher education attend a community college, but degree attainment lags. The African American Male Education Network and Development, also known as A²MEND, is led by African American male educators who work for institutional change within California’s community college system to increase the success of African American male students. An example of meaningful change is the Black and Males of Color Success program at Compton College, which hired its first director in 2021 and has programming that is having an impact.
“One thing Compton College and President [Dr. Keith] Curry have done is look at data to inform decisions,” says Jez, who researched gender disparities between Black men and women when she was a professor of public policy and administration at California State University, Sacramento. “It helps to target intentional, really smart strategies at the institution.”
Dr. Roderick L. Carey is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware. He conducts research on the school experiences of Black and Latinx adolescent boys and young men in urban contexts. He’s researched the behavior of high school students contemplating higher education.
“Many of them harbor various fears, trepidations or what I call college-going dilemmas,” says Carey. “Some of these dilemmas are shaped by cognitive factors around, ‘Am I actually intellectually or academically capable enough to do well in college?’ Some of that is certainly informed by their experiences in high schools, but other things are more social.”
They may be concerned about making friends or how they will be perceived, says Carey. There are also familial concerns that drive some of their fears. He explains research has shown that Black and Latinx men feel a deep level of responsibility to family that drives their decisions to go to college, but also decisions to forgo college to earn money. When developing resources for them, those concerns must be taken into consideration.
“Boys and men are not socialized to express insecurities, fears, or doubts,” Carey says. “That’s why these centers could be very, very important. A place where men gather to heal, to reflect, to learn not only academics, but social-emotional skills, relational skills, and ways to be in a community where there are resources they can reach out to if they need them.”
Lakeland Community College in Ohio created its MRC in 1996 after seeing the success of its women’s center. James Shelley, the center’s director since its inception, says he quickly learned that men need different approaches than women especially when it comes to expressing problems they may be facing. Programming has been developed to meet the needs of men of color, who now comprise about 50% of the students who access the center. This is notable because only about 15% of the overall student population are people of color.
Shelley tries to connect with as many new students as possible during orientation, particularly at-risk students, creating a personalized letter hand-delivered at the check-in area. If he doesn’t connect that way, he’ll call to ensure a personal connection. The MRC has several programs, including some for potential students still considering whether to enroll and another for students age 25 or older.
The Pathfinders Program at Lakeland’s MRC is specifically geared to the needs of African American men. The main event is a bi-weekly speaker series featuring Black male professionals who have been through college and have gone on to establish themselves in various career areas.
“There’s a double theme; one is to be motivational,” says Shelley. “The other is to focus on skills like networking that they’re not going to get in the classroom. How to connect with people who can help you advance your career and professional development and other soft skill areas.”
There is also a service component. Men taking part in Pathfinders speak with kids at Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cleveland.
Shelley says when comparing participants in the Pathfinders program who are Pell Grant recipients with Pell Grant recipients at the college who don’t participate, there is 10% to 11% higher retention among those who access the MRC. Also, students in Pathfinders who stop out (leave college before completion) are four times more likely to return than students who hadn’t participated.
Jez says one of the big challenges is making college structures and cultures work for Black and Latinx men. The signal needs to be sent early on that this is a place where these men can thrive. Continually collecting and analyzing data to assess programmatic success is essential. Community partnerships are very important as they can provide resources and additional supports for male students of color — holistic supports addressing not only academic needs but mental health, financial stability, and personal development.
QCC’s MRC describes itself as a one-stop student services center where male students from all disciplines can come together to interact, learn, grow, and build successful traits toward their personal and professional goals. It is providing culturally responsive resources and programming to address student needs. This has included a barbershop day at which students were offered free haircuts and a trip to see the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, DC.
Signing up is simple with students able to opt-in to join the QCC MRC mailing list. If they wish, they can indicate what services they would consider beneficial. Biggs says giving students a clear voice has helped build a sense of belonging. The center provides peer mentorship as well as faculty mentorship. There are career, employment, and internship opportunities. Leadership and character development are also available.
“There is a lot of social support with students being able to interact and grow with each other and hold each other accountable,” says Biggs. “I think it is important for our mentees to know there are different paths in which you can achieve the same outcome.”
“If we can improve educational outcomes for males of color, we can help reduce income inequality and provide more opportunities for individuals and for underserved communities,” says Jez.
Biggs says that since the ribbon cutting event in August marking the launch of QCC’s MRC, there has been a boost in students interested in becoming peer mentors. There is a goal to bring the three-year graduation rate to 40% by Fall 2026.
“A lot of Black and Latino boys that I’ve been working with really struggle to see their future and to envision it, let alone determine steps to actualize their futures,” says Carey, whose website findingfutureselves.org addresses these issues. “What high schools and colleges can do is to work with Black and Latino boys and young men around how to align their college, career, and life ambitions.”
As men’s centers are being developed, Shelley hears from people around the country, including faculty, administration, and even students interested in how best to serve students. While some had difficulty getting funding for a center, he’s recently seen a shift. There is also concern that, with the recent attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion, some of these centers will face additional scrutiny.
“When I started this program in ’96, I thought there would be 100 similar centers within 15 years, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Shelley says. “Now, it is getting attention.”
Carey says students are looking for a place where they can find a sense of belonging.
“I can see a tremendous amount of potential in men’s resource centers,” he says. “A Black male resource center can be a place where men of color come together to collectively theorize on their experiences. But it could also be a think tank for institutions to gather the insights of the men there to make the place better so they can see higher outcomes.”