For the majority of my professional career, the educational attainment and performance of Black students have been primary themes in my research. But over the last three decades, more of my attention has been devoted to improving the educational status of Black males. While this interest has largely been infl uenced by my early experiences as an elementary school teacher, an Urban League Street Academy principal, and an Upward Bound teacher, serving as the chairperson of a 1987 task force to review the status of Black males in the New Orleans Public Schools gave me and my committee the opportunity to take an introspective look at this critical issue and identify more than two dozen solutions.
More than 20 years after the New Orleans study “Educating Black Male Youth: A Moral and Civic Imperative,” Black males have achieved some gains in educational performance and attainment but national data show they are still disproportionately represented in negative indicators such as dropouts, suspensions and expulsions.Also, their numbers in gifted and honors programs and postsecondary institutions remain low. However, colleges and universities can play a major role in increasing the academic achievement and college attendance rates for both Black males and other high school students.
Females as a group exceed the number of males both enrolled in college and graduating with undergraduate and graduate degrees. The attendance gap between Black females and males in 2007 was 707,200!But on a positive note, Black females and males increased their share of bachelor’s degrees by 54.6 percent between 1993-94 and 2003-04. Black females’ share increased by 62.7 percent compared with Black males’ increase of 40.6 percent. Still, Black females earned more master’s degrees than Black males in 2003-2004 (32,453 compared with 13, 017); more doctorates (1,780 compared with 946); and more firstprofessional degrees (3,508 compared with 2,127).
So how can we “scale up” the educational attainment of Black males? First, we must reinforce their academic performance and achievement at every level of the academic continuum. Providing support and encouragement to these young men will motivate them to do well in school and lead to their matriculation into college and graduate/professional schools. Even more, recognizing their academic achievement serves a dual purpose in dispelling the myth and minimizing the pervasive negative peer pressure that doing well in school is not “cool.” Many are surprised when I tell them Black males scored higher than Black females on the SAT between 2005 and 2007. But I use that statistic to emphasize that Black males have the ability to attend college and that teachers must talk about college with both students and their parents in the elementary grades. As the surveys in the New Orleans Public Schools study confirmed, Black parents share the college aspirations of their children. But they need the assistance of colleges and universities that can host financial aid workshops to show them how a college education is affordable with federal and state grants, as well as scholarships.
Additionally, colleges and universities should develop more pre-college programs to increase the number of college students overall, but particularly Black males. Much of the college enrollment growth of Black students in the 1970s was because of federally funded summer and weekend pre-college enrichment programs such as Upward Bound, Talent Search and others. Those programs have helped to increase students’ academic performance in high school and their interest in attending college. Colleges and universities should augment these programs by establishing unique partnerships with elementary and secondary schools, where they can use their students as mentors to convey the benefits of pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Gannon University has developed some of these mentoring and high-school-based programs, and there are many local students who will now attend college as a result of participating in our pre-college initiatives.
Improving the educational conditions of Black males is an achievable goal. However, we must remember to acknowledge the educational attainment gains Black males have made over the last two decades and redouble those figures and our efforts to ensure that these young men will succeed at even higher levels.
Dr. Antoine M. Garibaldi is the president of Gannon University in Erie, Pa. This column is based on his chapter, “The Educational Status of African American Males in the 21st Century,” which was published in the book Black American Males in Higher Education: Diminishing Proportions.Garibaldi’s chapter was first published in the 75th Anniversary issue of The Journal of Negro Education, a scholarly refereed journal of Howard University, in the summer of 2007.