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Black Male Achievement And the Community College

Black Male Achievement And the Community College

By Dr. Edward C. Bush and Dr. Lawson Bush

The two-year college often represents Black men’s first experience with postsecondary education, and for many, their last opportunity for obtaining a degree beyond a high-school diploma.

Yet a review of student performance data provided by the California chancellor’s office for community colleges indicates that African-American men are the lowest-performing sub-group in the percentage of degrees earned, persistence rates and average cumulative grade point average. Transfer rates are the only measure in which African-American men are not the lowest-performing group but are still well behind White and Asian sub-groups.

In addition, we found in our 2003 study “Beware of False Promise,” that Black men are less likely to meet with their instructors than other sub-groups and are less likely than any other male group to be involved in extracurricular activities.

The academic performance of Black men, along with their disproportionate representation in community colleges (more than 70 percent enrolled in California), has profound economic and social consequences, given the relationship between degree attainment and social mobility. 

Some see the community college as a system that maneuvers low-income and historically excluded populations into two-year institutions. In fact, a California mandate allows for individual state university campuses to redirect students to community colleges who do not complete specified courses at the end of their first year of enrollment, effectively ensuring a stratification system based on race and class. In addition, a state budget crisis has caused the University of California to issue contracts to thousands of students promising to admit them after they complete community college.  

But given the large numbers of Black men in two-year schools, community colleges indeed may be the best-positioned educational institutions to address the plight of this demographic, at least initially.

However, community colleges lack the incentive to examine academic outcomes by ethnicity in meaningful ways. In other words, there are no political acts or laws demanding any level of student achievement outcomes nor are there any threats to the institution’s funding sources based on their inability to produce equitable outcomes.

We are not supporters of the No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, we contend that the act is actually harmful to urban schools in particular. But we find value in the opportunity for K-12 institutions to disaggregate data along the lines of race as required by the national act. The community college system has not undergone this same type of scrutiny with respect to accountability, race and achievement. It was a “racialized” lens that led us to discover the disproportionate numbers of Black men enrolled in community colleges and their less-than-stellar academic performance.

But disaggregating the data is not enough. Institutions must take a close look at their missions. Unlike four-year institutions, community colleges, because of their mission of open enrollment, do not exclude students on the basis of high-school preparation or test scores. Consequently, community colleges are challenged to develop practices that will best assist students to reach their academic goals despite their demographic or educational background. Community colleges could specifically address the educational needs of Black men by developing, for example, formal mentorship programs between faculty and students and providing learning cohorts and communities.

— Dr. Edward C. Bush is an associate professor and coordinator of student activities at Riverside Community College, and Dr. Lawson Bush is an associate professor at California State University, Los Angeles.

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