Friday, April 3, 2009

Why Can't Tyrone Graduate From His Negro College HBCU?!?

If you've read this blog for any period of time, you'll know I'm proud of my Negro College[1] HBCU education. My school adequately prepared me for a career in Corporate America. I had a sh*tload of fun, made some lifelong friends, and got a gang of job offers. Perhaps best of all, I walked away with zero student loans, since in-state tuition was barely $800/semester when I graduated in the mid 90's. While they are emphatically not for everyone, HBCU's represent a great value in education, and I think that the fiscally viable schools still have a place, even in a "post-racial" America.

My college was an engineering school, so it didn't have the typical 18:1 girl/guy ratio that some other HBCU's purportedly have, provided you subscribe to urban legends and not actual enrollment data. Still, it wasn't exactly a sausage-fest either [pause]. There were more girls than guys, but not that many more.

Recently, I went back to my alma mater to cop some swag from the bookstore for my kids. I'm not on the Robert Kelly tip so trust me, I wasn't cruising the yard to 18 year olds. But I couldn't help but casually notice a dramatic shift in the gender balance. Turns out my school is just indicative of a troubling new trend.
They're no longer the only option for African-American students, but the country's historically black colleges and universities brag that they provide a supportive environment where these students are more likely to succeed. That is not necessarily the case.

An Associated Press analysis of government data on the 83 federally designated four-year HBCUs shows just 37 percent of their black students finish a degree within six years. That's 4 percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for black students.

One major reason: the struggles of black men. Just 29 percent of HBCU males complete a bachelor's degree within six years, the AP found.

A few HBCUs, including Howard and all-female Spelman, have much higher graduation rates, exceeding the national averages for black and white students. Others are among the nation's worst-performing colleges. At 38 HBCUs, fewer than one in four men who started in 2001 had completed a bachelor's degree by 2007, the data show. At Texas Southern, Voorhees, Edward Waters and Miles College, the figure was under 10 percent.

To be sure, women outperform men across education, and many non-HBCUs struggle with low graduation rates. The rates don't account for students who transfer or take more than six years.

Still, HBCUs' low completion rates, especially for men, have broad consequences, on and off campus. Women account for more than 61 percent of HBCU students, the AP found. They have unprecedented leadership opportunities but also pay a price -- in everything from one-sided classroom discussions to competition for dates.

HBCUs educate only one-quarter of black college students but produce an outsized number of future black graduate students and leaders. That group is distinctly female; the schools award twice as many degrees to women as to men.
One thing that few can deny is that there's a definite gender achievement gap in American education. This is hardly race specific, since it exists among White, Asian, and Hispanic students as well. But it's perhaps no more pronounced than in the Black community, where girls are routinely outpacing boys. This begins in grade school, and continues into higher ed. The longterm ramifications of this have been dissected ad nauseum, so I won't rehash them here.

Still, the fact that more black men aren't getting at least a Bachelor's degree nowadays is alarming. Fewer black men with good earning potential means fewer black men who can hold down a household with a career, rather than a job. I'm certainly not saying that you can't succeed in life without a college education. But still, that's a troublesome trend.

I am generally assuming that these dropout numbers have gotten worse over the years. That's pretty scary, considering the fact that I nearly flunked out myself (my GPA was around the Mendoza line after my first year) as a Freshman. I knew a lot of buddies who majored in Spades, with a minor in Techmo Bowl, that didn't make it to their Sophomore years.

I don't pretend to have the answer here. I was a good (but not particularly hardworking) high school student who went to college and initially found myself in well over my head academically as a Freshman. I can't say my school did anything to help me recover, other than snatching my academic scholarship and putting me on probation. That motivation to do better was a matter of personal pride. I just could not afford to fail outta school and go back home to live in my parents basement.[2] Listening to my Dad's disappointment was enough. Dropping out and having to live with him again would have been another story altogether. So I dug in, quit partying, focused myself, and graduated with honors.

Can schools put that fearful pride in young men to encourage them to stick it out and get their educations? While it's their responsibility as institutions of higher learning, I don't think they can. That determination to succeed has to be developed long before a kid steps foot on campus. Yeah, this is indeed a plug for The AverageBro Challenge™. As if you didn't smell it a mile away.

Tutor or mentor a kid today, and prevent tomorrow's HBCU dropout.

Question: Other than economic reasons, why are so many black men flunking out of college? What are the longterm ramifications of the imbalance in academic achievement between black boys and girls? Do PWI's do a better job of educating Black students than HBCU's? Are HBCU's becoming obsolete, now that Obama is in office? Did you fail out of college? If so, why?

Many men slip at black colleges [AP]

[1] Some of you have told me via email that you dislike the use of the term "Negro College". This is little more than tongue-in-cheek humor, so I surely don't mean to offend anyone. Besides, it's simply a matter of historical record. Many HBCU's actually had the term "Negro College" in their official names at some point in time. No harm, hopefully no foul. Get at me if you still think I need to drop this. I'm not immune to criticism. We'll discuss.

[2] We didn't technically have a basement, but why ruin a perfectly good cliche on a technicality?

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