U.S. Is Urged to Curtail Alarming Dropout Rates Among Minority Men

September 02, 2014

The federal government should require all colleges to create early-alert systems that flag students with low test scores, missing assignments, or spotty attendance. That would be one way, according to a report released on Tuesday, to curb the alarming number of minority men who drop out of college.

The report, "Advancing the Success of Boys and Men of Color in Education," is the result of brainstorming by diversity researchers at seven higher-education institutions. It is aimed at building on the momentum of My Brother’s Keeper, the Obama administration’s effort to improve education and career outcomes for young minority men.

Black men lag behind their peers in other races when it comes to graduating from both two- and four-year colleges, according to federal statistics that track their completion through 2009 and 2012, respectively. Only a third of black male students graduated from four-year colleges within six years, compared with 45 percent of Hispanic men, 57 percent of white men, and 64 percent of Asian men.

For two-year colleges, the percentages who received a certificate or degree or who transferred to a four-year college over six years were 32 for black, 30 for Latino, 40 for white, and 43 for Asian men. But minority men aren’t the only ones who would benefit from the changes the group is proposing.

"We tried to provide recommendations that get at issues for boys and men of color but also address equity gaps for other disadvantaged groups," J. Luke Wood, co-director of the Minority Male Community College Collaborative at San Diego State University, said in an interview.

His center was joined in the report by similar groups at Morehouse College, Ohio State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Many Recommendations

The report makes 11 policy recommendations aimed at better preparing and tracking students as they progress from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. In addition, it offers four that specifically relate to higher education.

First off are early-alert systems for all Title IV degree-granting colleges. A student who missed several classes in a row early in the semester might receive an electronic message directing him to a counselor or adviser. If he ignored the message, his phone would ring. The adviser would help identify academic or personal roadblocks and would steer him to services that could help.

"There are so many interventions, including counseling and tutoring, that could be put in place that we know work, but by the time students are referred, it’s too late, and they fall through the cracks," Mr. Wood said.

Secondly, colleges that are already required by federal law to disclose completion and graduation rates should break those down by race or ethnicity and by gender within those groups. That would provide "a more-nuanced understanding of how colleges and universities foster differential outcomes by student backgrounds," the report says.

The government should also require colleges to conduct self studies of student experiences and outcomes with data broken down in the same way. "If postsecondary institutions truly wish to understand and facilitate the success of all of their students," the report says, "then they have a moral obligation to investigate and scale up what works for males of color and scale down what doesn’t."

Finally, colleges that are designated by the federal government as minority-serving should explicitly state in their strategic plans that they "serve" such students and don’t just enroll them in large numbers. The extra money distributed to those colleges should be contingent upon meeting student-success goals.

Seamless Pathways

The report also calls on the federal government to require school districts, community colleges, and public four-year colleges to work together to design curricula that create seamless pathways so fewer students get off track. And it recommends that a national clearinghouse be established to highlight successful strategies.

A number of recent conferences and reports have shined a spotlight on challenges facing young minority men. In March, Morehouse College hosted a Black Male Summit at which speakers called for more positive reinforcement, mentoring, and targeted academic support for black men. The event was co-sponsored by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, which President Obama created in 2012.

Among the programs that have received national attention are the University System of Georgia’s African-American Male Initiative, which was credited with increasing the enrollment of black male students by nearly 14,000, or 80 percent systemwide, from 2002 to 2011.

Another is the Academy for College Excellence, aimed at "struggling but strong" community-college students. It began at Cabrillo College, in California, and has since expanded to seven institutions nationwide.

While retention remains a serious concern, gaps in college-going rates by race and ethnicity have narrowed in recent years. Enrollment is becoming increasingly stratified, though, with white students more likely to attend selective colleges and minority students to enroll at open-access institutions, regardless of their qualifications.