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Disappearing Acts: The Vanishing Black Male On Community College Campuses

Disappearing Acts: The Vanishing Black Male On Community College Campuses

By Lorenzo I. Esters and Dr. David C. Mosby

Many consider community colleges “open door” institutions, denoting their unique role of providing an affordable and quality education for the masses. However, one has only to take a look behind those “open doors” to see very clearly that Black males are disappearing before they complete any meaningful goals, and those who remain lag behind other learners on almost every indicator of academic achievement. 

This has become one of the greatest challenges facing the nation’s community colleges today. In fact, the situation has reached almost epidemic proportions; this is especially true in urban communities. Where have all the Black males gone and why aren’t more people concerned about their departure? According to the spring 2006 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System survey, or IPEDS, Black, non-Hispanic male students had the lowest three-year graduation rate — 16 percent — among all minority male community college students. This evidence should be a clarion call for all concerned about the plight of the Black male. We argue that American community colleges are failing to keep their promise to the Black men who come to their doors each year in search of a better life through a quality education.

In 2004, Kay McClenney, director of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, said of the disparity in educational attainment between well-off and poor students, and between White and Black and Hispanic students: “The gap is dangerous. It is intolerable. It is a blight on America’s future. And it is worse in community colleges than elsewhere in post-school education.”

What is most alarming about the current state of the Black male on America’s community college campuses is that those who are in positions of leadership have been slow to recognize the situation as a state of emergency and have been almost reluctant to own up to their responsibility to take corrective action. The accumulated research studies on the subject of Black male student retention may be a source for community colleges to gain some insight as to how they may appropriately respond to the epidemic. There are many successful projects around the country, including the Student African American Brotherhood. Founded by Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe at Georgia Southwestern State University, the organization attempts to address the academic challenges of Black males. The program has a record of success in developing and maintaining African-American/Hispanic male leadership, discipline and accountability, creating strategies and tools for renewal, revival and resurrection for a population often written off as “lost.”

The achievement and college retention rate gap between Black males and other learners will not change without the strong leadership of community college presidents, the support and advocacy of community college trustees and the active involvement of faculty. Put simply, community college presidents and boards of trustees must not only keep the access promise, they must also keep the success promise. We believe that trustees could play a more aggressive and supportive role in helping presidents confront controversial issues. Trustees can also support presidents in their efforts and adopt policies affecting the success of Black males in community colleges. How can trustees and college leaders take pride in their colleges when populations of their students are disappearing and performing at consistently low levels?

Through their fiduciary responsibility for public funds and the appointment of presidents to their institutions, community college trustees profoundly affect the ability of the president to address the diverse needs of learners — and by extension, the ability of community colleges to serve the needs of Black males. There are four critically important steps that trustees and presidents can take to affect change regarding this crisis:

– Represent the common good: Recognize the board’s responsibility for promoting success of all learners, including Black men.

– Set the policy direction: Explicitly state the expectations of community colleges for closing the achievement gap between Black men and other learners.

– Monitor performance: Periodically assess the effectiveness of the college and establish clear goals in evaluating whether community colleges are meeting those expectations.

– Create a positive climate: Serve as advocates in support of closing the achievement gap between Black men and other learners.

Community colleges must certainly recognize that the cost of implementing programs to improve the success of Black men could be substantial. However, the return on their investment is far more rewarding to the nation than the possible costs of creating the programs.

Yes, community colleges are “open door” institutions, but are more Black men taking the entrance or the exit? That is the question.

— Dr. David C. Mosby is a graduate of the Community College Leadership Doctoral Program at Morgan State University and is dean of facilities management at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland.
Lorenzo L. Esters is a current student in the CCLD program and is a member of the College Board at Northern Virginia Community College.

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