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Gender gap – education of African Americans

Since the early 1980s, the American Council on Education (ACE) has been collecting and disseminating educational data annually on racial and ethnic minorities.Among its findings in 1996 is that students of color have posted significant gains in college enrollment and the number of degrees they earned — yet the picture is decidedly mixed for different racial and ethnic minority groups.


One thing is certain — say the report’s coauthors Deborah J. Carter, associate director of ACE’s Office of Minorities in Higher Education and Senior Scholar Dr. Reginald Wilson — the academic gains were largely bolstered by the success of minority women. But in no racial or ethnic group is the gap as glaring as it is between African-American men and African-American women in the number of degrees earned at each of the three degree levels, maintain Carter and Wilson.


In earlier years, ACE studies have made note of the gender-different degree rates among African Americans. Dr. William Trent, an expert on the impact of race and equity issues on educational attainment, sounded an alarm in the 1991 book, “College in Black and White,” when he concluded that special attention needed to be focused on the academic careers of Black males and that gender-different degree rates must be monitored.


Fluctuating Numbers


In the early 90s Trent, a professor of sociology and educational policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote of the approaching “feminization of education among Blacks” at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. Says Trent: “The ramifications of such a trend has implications for mate selection and community structure as well as occupational distribution implications given the interaction of racism and sexism in employment.”


Based on the findings of the National Study of Black College Students, Trent found that Black women outpaced Black men on all three degree levels for the academic years 1975-76 and 1980-81. In 1975-76, for example, Black women earned 32,952 or 7.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees, while Black men earned 25,301 or 5.0 percent. Also that year, Black women earned 12,301 or 8.5 percent of the master’s degrees, while men earned 7,611 or 4.6 percent. In that same year, however, the number of Ph.D.s awarded to Black men, 743, exceeded those going to Black women, 426. Degrees awarded for the 1980-81 academic year follow a similar pattern. As in earlier years, Black women earned fewer Ph.D. degrees — 571 — while Black men earned 694.


Science and Engineering Lag


In comparison to earlier years, the degree rates across disciplines for Black men today are “worrisome,” say some educators, especially when it comes to doctoral degrees. According to the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, the number of Ph.D.s awarded to African-American men increased in 1995 to 482, up from, 409 in 1994. African-American women, on the other hand, earned 805 doctorates in 1995 up from 686 the previous year.


While their numbers are improving, minority women, like all women, continue to lag behind in the number of Ph.D.s earned in science and engineering, according to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME) and the National Research Council.


According to NACME, the substantial gender gap that exists in the science and engineering professions widens among women of color–with African-American, Latina and Native-American women having by far the lowest participation rates.


Elementary Action


Educator and lecturer Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu is not surprised by studies showing gulfs between the number of degrees earned by Black women and Black men. What’s more telling to him and other educators is the “real” and often “tragic story” behind the numbers for African-American males. “The numbers could have been predicted,” Kunjufu declares.


“The disparity in the number of Black males on college campuses and their ability to earn degrees is inevitable if we start losing Black boys [in the educational system] as early as the fourth-grade,” says Kunjufu, author of the bestseller “Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys.”


In the transition from the primary grades to the intermediate level, which begins in fourth-grade, some of the most profound problems for African-American male youngsters start to manifest when they are just eight years old, says Kunjufu. in the fourth-grade, for example, some young boys struggle with the shift from hands-on group activities to more theoretical and individual study; confront growing peer pressure; or flounder as parental involvement is withdrawn and as teachers begin to expect less of them as they, the boys, grow older.


One of the most detrimental occurrences for young Black males is their disproportional placement in special education classes, says Kunjufu. “Whether you call that a conspiracy … or racism, it doesn’t matter. It’s just wrong.” When educators are faced with staggering data like that compiled in the recent ACE report, there is nothing left to do but react, says Kunjufu. When Black boys are in elementary school, that’s the time to act, he adds.


“It’s easier to correct the problem before you have these disparities [in degree levels] … before Black males get to college,” argues Kunjufu. “There are more resources to save Black males at nine than there are when they are 29.”


Nancy Kirby agrees. “In order to analyze the numbers, you have to look at the early education of Black males,” says Kirby, assistant dean and director of graduate admissions for the School of Social Work at Bryn Mawr College. African-American males are on par with Africa n-American females until they get to the fourth-grade, but in primary and secondary school the big drop off occurs,” adds Kirby. As African Americans and as educators, Kirby urges a closer look at the 11 systemic and pipeline issues” for the gender differences in degree attainment for African Americans.


Kunjufu’s fourth volume of “Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys,” published a year ago, includes a chapter on “The Black Male on Campus.” He opens the chapter with this pronouncement: “African Americans are the only group in America in which females outnumber males (800,000 to 500,000) in college enrollment.


In a culture and society that places a greater value on athletic ability than academic achievement, it’s no wonder that education “is not valued among youngmen,” argues ACE’s Wilson.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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