Welcome to Race on Campus. Last spring, men made up just over 40 percent of the nation’s undergraduate students — an all-time low. The enrollment declines were especially pronounced among Black and Latino men at community colleges. This week, our Katie Mangan examines what one university system is doing to stem the flow.

If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: fernanda@chronicle.com.

‘Guys Need More Help’

Daniel Melendez didn’t see the point of school when he dropped out halfway through ninth grade to work in construction. Eventually, he earned his GED and made his way to the City University of New York’s Kingsborough Community College. But it wasn’t until he visited the Men’s Resource Center there that he discovered how good it felt to sit around with a bunch of guys and talk about everything from philosophy to TED Talks to “superhero death battles.”

“Guys need more help. We don’t look for community,” he said. “I just stumbled into one.”

Melendez, who is now 29, went on to become a mentor for other men like him — mostly Black and Latino (he’s Puerto Rican) — and hopes to teach history at a local high school.

At a time when there’s so much focus on the men who aren’t going to college, or dropping out partway through, Melendez is an example of the personal breakthroughs that can happen, some say, when a college provides academic, social, and financial support for men of color. Men aren’t a group that’s typically considered disadvantaged, but for today’s enrollment-challenged colleges, attracting and retaining them is a growing struggle and a priority.

Holding Steady

In the spring of 2021, men made up just 40.5 percent of the nation’s undergraduate students — an all-time low. Some of the sharpest enrollment declines were among Black men in community colleges — down 23.5 percent between 2019 and 2021. For Hispanic men, the drop for those institutions was 19.7 percent.

The CUNY system, whose 25 colleges are spread across New York City’s five boroughs, is having some success bucking the trend. The percentage of men enrolled in its colleges has held relatively steady over the past six years, at 44 percent. The system serves predominantly Black and Latino students and offers dozens of programs to support men of color, who, even before the pandemic, were among the most likely to drop out.

The Black Male Initiative is one of those programs. Although it’s aimed at Black men, it’s open to men of other demographics as well. The longstanding and often-replicated initiative includes more than 30 projects focused on increasing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of underrepresented students.

Among them is the Men’s Resource Center at Kingsborough Community College, which matches students with successful peer mentors like Melendez and encourages participants to lead workshops for at-risk students at a local multicultural high school. A lecture series in which students plan and deliver lectures to their peers helps participants boost their confidence and leadership skills. The center is open to all academically eligible students, faculty, and staff members, but its stated purpose is to support men of color.

It’s a place where Black and Latino students who are the first in their families to attend college don’t have to pretend they have all the answers. “When you’ve made it to college, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, I have to do it by myself. Otherwise, people will think I don’t belong here,” said the program’s director, Michael Rodriguez. “People are throwing around these terms like bursar and syllabus. I’m supposed to know these things.”

CUNY also offers afatherhood academy that reaches out to young fathers who have dropped out of high school. It helps them achieve their high-school equivalency credentials and then encourages them to enroll in college. The program, offered to 18- to 30-year-old Black and Latino men, provides parenting and job tips.

“When guys become fathers, there’s pressure to get a job right away,” said the program’s director, Kymel Yard. “After they’ve been in that grind for a while, they might come to a community college for microcredentials that they can build on.” The students he works with tell him they want to be role models for their kids, as well as in their communities, and that a program that gives them a second chance to succeed at education can make that possible.

Though CUNY has kept its enrollment levels for Black men steady, retention remains a challenge. Between 2015 and 2020, Black men continued to make up around 15 percent of its enrollment, but fall-to-fall retention rates for this population dropped from 62 percent to 58 percent between 2012 and 2019.

I’ll be taking a closer look at the challenges of recruiting and retaining male students, including men of color, in a special report coming out the week of January 18. It will be posted in our new Student Success Resource Center, which The Chronicle is publishing with support from the Ascendium Education Group.

—Katherine Mangan

Read Up

  • The gender gap among college students has persisted for decades, but it widened during the pandemic. Last summer, Kelly Field took Chronicle readers on a deep dive into the forces driving the demographic shift — including the racial dynamics in play. (The Chronicle)
  • You know those medical illustrations hanging on the walls of your doctor’s office? Have you ever noticed they almost always depict white bodies? Chidiebere Ibe, a Nigerian medical student, is on a quest to change that. (NBC News)
  • Last month, the nation’s oldest Latino civil-rights organization decided to stop using the term “Latinx,” citing a Miami Heraldeditorialurging progressives to stop using it. We explored the debate over the term — which is intended to be gender inclusive — in a Race on Campus newsletter last year. (NBC News, The Miami Herald, The Chronicle)