Reversing the Plight of African American Male College Students
Scholars, both African American and Caucasian, have addressed the plight of the African American college student attending a predominantly White college or university. Of special concern is the African American male. Although African American men and women bear similar sociological and psychological scars of racism and bigotry, most researchers and community leaders agree that the retention of African American men is unquestionably and disproportionately beneath African American women.
Alarming statistics tell us that Black males are more likely to be killed in a violent act, more likely to drop out of high school and more likely to be incarcerated than to enroll in college. Researchers also point out that a high incarceration rate is a factor in dwindling enrollment among this population. In fact, more African American men are currently in U.S. prisons than in U.S. colleges.
The African American male has even been described as an “endangered species,” and the successful African American male is now being viewed as something of an anomaly. Today, African American male students have more access to colleges of their choice, but there is a high probability that they will not complete their basic course work, let alone attempt more advanced programs.
It comes as no surprise that African American men are in a precarious position when it comes to persistence in higher education. The declining numbers nationally of African American males attending and graduating from college are distressing not only because of the immediate implications for the men themselves, but also because of long-term economic, social and political consequences for society.
Retention scholars have known for a long time that a student’s fit — or “niche” — in the college environment has a direct impact on his staying power until graduation. For African American men, however, this hunt for a niche often is affected adversely by the challenges they face while transitioning to a predominantly White college or university. To combat these challenges, educators have begun to use noncognitive variables.
One such variable that is receiving increased attention is the presence of a mentor. Many educators consider the placement of formally assigned mentors on campus who are similar in race and gender to be an immediate solution to the attrition problem of African American men. But the paucity of Black male role models available as mentors at predominantly White campuses remains a serious problem. It remains a problem in America that many children will go through their elementary and secondary school years and never see an African American male educator. Unfortunately, it appears that many may never see an African American educator in the college classroom either, since Black faculty remain scarce in postsecondary education as well.
Although Black male mentors hold a special position in the development of Black males on White campuses, mentors can come from both races and both genders. An increased African American male student presence not only helps to keep White colleges and universities culturally sound, it also increases the number of Black men completing their college degrees so that they are more in parity with their female counterparts.
Institutionalizing mentoring is a valuable first step in reversing the trend of a questionable future for the Black male’s persistence in higher education. Once this is accomplished, Black men finally will be free of the message so often conveyed in almost all aspects of American life that they are simply an endangered species. Eventually, they will be able to break free of this stereotype, boost the number of college graduates and ensure a productive future for the Black family.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com