Why HBCUs need ‘My Brother’s Keepers’  

OPINION - Today, of the 1.2 million black males currently enrolled in college, 43 percent attend community colleges and 11 percent attend for-profit colleges...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Contrary to popular belief, the current ratio of black females to black males at HBCUs is less than 2-to-1 (1.57-to-1 to be exact) — nonetheless, it is a disparity with unfavorable consequences, especially when we unpack the numbers.

According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, across the 311,671 students who currently attend HBCUs, there are 68,843 more females than males.  Among the private HBCUs supported by the UNCF, the average enrollment for females is 1,499, and the average enrollment for males is 656.

According to the American Community Survey, among black people in the United States age 25-years and older, 825,414 more black women have at least a Bachelor’s degree than black men.  Notwithstanding, problems with college under-preparation negatively impacts black females and males.

In the current educational environment, even our most gifted black males and females with the most dedicated families can leave high school underprepared.  In 2014, the Department of Education released the results of the 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection.

The data reveals that opportunity gaps exist between black students and their peers across the country, particularly around three key areas: (1) black children are more  likely than many of their peers to attend schools that offer a less rigorous curriculum; (2) black boys have higher suspension rates than any of their other peers — 1 in 5 black boys receive an out-of-school suspension; and (3) schools serving the highest percentage of black students tend to have higher numbers of inexperienced teachers.

Undoubtedly, these issues are reshaping the higher education landscape for black males in ways that are unfavorable to HBCUs.

Over the last 15 years, the total share of black male college students at HBCUs has declined, while their representation at less competitive higher education options has increased.  Currently, the top ten colleges for enrolling black males are comprised of 3 for-profit colleges, 4 community colleges, and 3 public 4-year institutions.

Today, of the 1.2 million black males currently enrolled in college, 43 percent attend community colleges and 11 percent attend for-profit colleges.  Less than half of all black male college students attend traditional 4-year colleges and universities, including 11 percent who attend HBCUs.

Education is vital to the economic strength of communities and our progress as a nation.  If we are not equipping all students with what they need to be successful in college, in their career and in their lives, we are hindering our communities and our country.

Recently, I had a conversation with Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, the president of Florida Memorial University (FMU).  President Clark Artis told me that she has come into contact with numerous students who have not had the benefit of advanced math courses because they are simply not offered in their high schools.  FMU has responded to these challenges by creating bridge programs for high school students, but as a nation, we have to do a better job of giving all students the opportunities they need to prepare for college.

Recently, President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Task Force released its 90-day report, which contained recommendations on steps our society can take to begin to expand opportunity for all.  In response, seven university-based research centers jointly issued a statement describing their view of MBK as “an important opportunity to reframe hopeless, deficit-oriented narratives about boys and young men of color, schools that educate them, and communities in which they live.”

Specifically relevant to HBCUs, MBK calls for initiatives to make sure that all students, including boys and young men of color, graduate from high school ready for college and have the resources they need to complete college.   The president has called for an all-hands-on-deck effort.

A coalition of leading foundations and businesses that have long worked with others in philanthropy to create opportunities for young men and boys of color has announced that they are committing significant resources to research critical intervention points in the lives of boys and young men of color; change the often-damaging narrative about them; and catalyze coordinated investments to seed, replicate and scale up effective community solutions.

Dr. Bryant T. Marks of the Morehouse Research Institute found 19 African-American male initiatives across the private HBCUs that are UNCF member institutions.  Consistent with the President’s call, 94.7 percent of them identified mentoring as a major characteristic of their initiatives.  However, a recent report from the Foundation Center only identified one HBCU as having a research institute with a focus on Black men and boys.

In response to the President’s call to action in MBK, HBCUs have the potential to play a major role in expanding college access. MBK can amplify HBCU leaders’ call for policy solutions to resolve inequities in U.S. public schools that impede academic progress.

Consistent with the Task Force’s recommendations, HBCU academic affairs administrators can promote a pathway through AP classes that can help students transition from public schools to colleges and universities. In addition, through research at teacher education programs and trainings, HBCUs can examine the impact of teacher preparation on the academic achievement of Black males and aid in eliminating the discipline gap in our nation’s schools.

As the deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, and a researcher who has published extensively on black male achievement, I committed to working with HBCU administrators and scholars to start and sustain programs that expand opportunity for all youth, including boys and young men of color.

By taking leadership in the MBK initiative, HBCUs can contribute to the national agenda to help all youth, including black males, to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities, and build successful lives for themselves and their families.

Ivory Toldson is the Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Follow Ivory Toldson on Twitter @Toldson