Georgia On the MindThe state’s higher education system puts research,
policy focus on Black males By Ronald RoachAmong education researchers and higher education administrators around the nation, it is well known that African American male college attendance and completion rates are lagging behind those of males in other racial and ethnic groups as well as behind those of African American women. Yet the prospect for wide-scale public intervention has remained virtually dormant because states and localities have not yet linked the overall health of their economies and social order to the status of a vulnerable racial and gender group like young Black men.
In Georgia, however, concern about Black male college attendance and retention has become a front and center public policy research priority as well as an arena for policy intervention. It has been made so because state officials recognized that improving Black male educational status has serious implications for the state’s long-term economic and social health.
“It’s extraordinarily important that we look at this issue. We have a major segment of our population missing in the process of obtaining higher education,” says Dr. Thomas C. Meredith, chancellor of the University of Georgia system.
Education officials say it’s unprecedented that a state has elevated what has traditionally been a concern of individual researchers and a few academic institutes into a matter of priority for that state’s higher education system. Over the past couple of years, the state has funded a major study on Black male educational attainment and the lack of college enrollment and completion. The regents have also adopted the study’s recommendations and provided some funding for programs and public service announcements to boost Black male academic achievement in the state.
“Georgia’s in the spotlight, and the nation’s watching,” says Dr. Deryl Bailey, a University of Georgia education professor and the founder of a Black male academic achievement program in Athens, Ga.
Next year, the Georgia legislature will consider an appropriation request that could grow the $300,000 African American Male Initiative to a $1.5 million program, thus boosting the number of and research on developmental programs targeted at young Black male students in the public K-12 system as well as in the state’s 34 public colleges.
State officials say that while the legislative debate on Black male initiatives will prove decisive to the direction of public support for Black male intervention initiatives, they are eager to point to the research that has been undertaken as a model for other states and organizations. Officials also believe that private support will play a major role in shaping Black male intervention efforts in Georgia.
“We think there will be a balance between public and private support of these initiatives,” Meredith says.
In addition to Georgia’s public colleges, the issue of Black male college enrollment has been tackled by a number of historically Black colleges and universities. But rather than focus on systemic education issues, the HBCUs have appealed to Black males largely by adjustments in recruiting efforts and campus programs. For example, Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C., have found that reinstating college football programs have gone a long way toward attracting Black male students to their respective campuses.
Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber, the president of St. Augustine’s College, said a plan that reinstated a football program during the 2002-2003 year has played a significant part in growing total enrollment over the past two years. As of early September, the school had enrolled 819 males and 758 females, marking for the first time in its history a higher male enrollment than female.
“Reinstating football was done to help increase overall enrollment, but it’s had a significant effect in making our school more attractive to young men,” Suber says, noting that male enrollment has increased 4 percent over the previous year.
Suber adds that St. Augustine’s has added majors in real estate management and development, sports facilities management and criminal forensic science, which are geared to attract male students. “We believe these programs will add to our ability to retain male students,” she says.
The Shape of the Research
The Georgia numbers tell a compelling story. With college-age African American males making up 16 percent of the state’s population, they comprise only 7.2 percent of the students enrolled in Georgia’s public colleges and universities. Black women are 15 percent of the student population. In 1997, 23.5 percent of the African American males who graduated from Georgia high schools went on to college in the state. By 2001, that percentage had fallen to 20.8 percent. Of the African American males who enroll in college, a lower rate graduate than do White students and Black females. The graduation rate for Black males is 21 percent, compared with 35 percent for Black females, 47 percent for White females and 42 percent for White males. Fall 2002 enrollment data showed that Black women comprised 68 percent of the university system’s Black enrollment with 35,873 Black females compared to 17,068 males.
Arlethia Perry-Johnson, the associate vice-chancellor for media and publications, says it was numbers like those that led outgoing University of Georgia system chancellor Dr. Stephen Portch in 2001 to authorize research on the declining enrollment of Black males in the university system. Known as a research-driven chancellor, Portch had encountered the Black male enrollment data after an enrollment study identified Black males and nontraditional students as populations the UGA system was failing to attract, according to Perry-Johnson, who is the lead administrator on the African American Male Initiative.
“These issues have economic and quality of life implications for all our citizens. If a major part of the population doesn’t have access to quality education, that diminishes the state’s educational attainment profile and leads businesses to bypass Georgia as a place to invest and create jobs,” Perry-Johnson says.
According to Meredith, Portch’s successor, Perry-Johnson readily stepped up to the plate and led the Black male research study which included the participation of a 52-person, six-committee Task Force on Enhancing African American Male Access. The task force involved people representing colleges and universities, K-12 schools in Georgia, businesses and national organizations. “It was important to get a buy-in from officials from across the state and in the higher education system. We were able to develop a constituency with the task force,” Perry-Johnson says.
As the “USG’s African American Male Initiative (AAMI),” the study included reports from the task force’s six committees, a lengthy survey report conducted by a research firm and 15 recommendations to the board of regents. The task force outlined several reasons for low Black male college enrollment. They included low expectations of Black males by educators and the community; low aspirations among young Black males who have no male role models; disparities in funding between majority-White and majority-Black schools; a teaching force underrepresented with Black men; underprepared teachers in high-minority areas; and few college planning and support programs for Black students. Interviews with students, parents and educators indicated that Black males were less likely to pursue higher education if they have parents who did not go to college or if they are expected to earn money to contribute to their family.
Last April, the regents approved $60,000 in grants of $10,000 to six Georgia public colleges for pilot programs aimed at middle school to college-age African American males, including mentoring initiatives and summer bridge programs.
Among the 15 recommendations adopted by the board of regents this past May was the call for more tracking of African American males into the college-preparatory curriculum; better data gathering and dissemination; improved cultural sensitivity training for teachers and guidance counselors; a call urging Georgia college presidents to enhance African American male student retention at their respective campuses; and increasing the number of high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools where many African American students attend.Tested Pilot Programs
One of the programs, Gentlemen on the Move, that received AAMI funding this past summer was developed by UGA’s Deryl Bailey in 1989 in Asheville, N.C., which is the city where Bailey worked as a high-school counselor before getting his Ph.D. The Gentlemen on the Move program moved with Bailey from Asheville to communities near Charlottesville, Va., where he attended graduate school at the University of Virginia and eventually to Athens, Ga., where he’s been an assistant professor in the college of education at the University of Georgia since 1999.
“Basically, I got angry about what I saw happening to young Black males in the school system. I was angry at the system and I was angry at myself for not doing more to help Black male students,” Bailey explains.
The program is a Saturday school for middle and high school Black male students aimed at developing their social and academic skills. It is staffed voluntarily by local school teachers and graduate students. Bailey says 40 students are enrolled this fall, and students matriculate into the program by their own volition, their parents enroll them or as a result of teacher recommendations.
For Bailey, the $10,000 grant from the state helps supplement the program, which costs roughly $50,000 to operate annually. He says getting the grant has symbolic value and publicly validates Gentlemen on the Move as a successful effort boosting Black male academic achievement. “The cost of programs like these doesn’t compare to the massive spending that’s done to incarcerate people,” Bailey says.
Like Bailey, Dr. Dorothy Lord, the president of the Coastal Georgia Community College in Brunswick, Ga., has road tested a developmental program for Black male middle-school students going back at least a decade. Lord says her program, which was launched in 1993, is a summer academy that accommodates about 70 students a year and costs $30,000 annually.
Lord was pleased to have gotten an AAMI grant but says programs like hers ultimately depend upon the support it has at its base institution and the support of the local Black community. For the past decade, Lord has raised roughly $30,000 a year in private funding to pay for the program’s cost. “This is something all 34 public colleges and universities have to embrace on their own,” she says.
Lord credits the outreach program for helping to improve the community college’s overall reputation in the Black community. Black enrollment has increased from 20 percent in 1993 of total enrollment to 27.4 percent of enrollment in 2002, according to Coastal Georgia officials.
The complete contents of the African American Male Initiative can be found at the University System of Georgia Web site at <www.usg.edu/aami/>.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com