Thursday, May 10, 2012

University of Pennsylvania Report on Black Male Achievement in Higher Education

What Works: “Messaging. Mentoring. Monitoring. Ministering. Money.” – Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College

The University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education released a report highlighting the success stories of 219 black youth from 42 campuses who graduated from colleges and universities. It is worth noting that out of the 221 nominees, only two declined participating in the interviews conducted for the study, showing the high interest in and the need for encouraging future minority student enrollment. The paper focuses not on the already widely discussed disparities of educational achievements between Black male students compared to  other students but on how these successful participants gained admission into competitive institutions and became actively involved on their campuses.

The interviews address pre-college experiences and the influences that family members, peers, and significant others had on the developing college aspirations of the participants interviewed. The study then questions which interventions and support mechanisms aided these aspirations and what compelled the students to become engaged both academically and extracurricularly once on campus. While pre-college socioeconomic factors often contribute to disparities in college enrollment and campus involvement, 56.7% of the participants came from low-income and working class families, providing a large sample of success stories that are important to consider in relationship to  the dominant discourse on Black male disengagement. Additionally, the study navigates how these participants became successful in “environments that were sometimes racist and often culturally unresponsive” on college campuses that were predominantly White, revealing valuable lessons that, if changes are made, could impact future students both on and off campus.   

The report briefly cites compelling statistics that speak both to cultural and economic barriers; demonstrating the need for studies examining the success of Black males rather than only focusing on demographic failures. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in comparison to Black female students, Black male students consistently had lower graduation rates at all higher educational levels. A publication entitled “They (Don’t) Care about Education: A Counternarrative on Black Male Students’ Responses to Inequitable Schooling” found that Black male students have the lowest college completion rate among both the sexes and all racial groups in higher education, with only 33.3% of students graduating baccalaureate degree programs at public colleges and universities within six years against 48.1% of students graduating overall. And rates of college enrollment for Black males have remained stagnant since 1976 at 4.3%, found in another report analyzing trends in Black make status in flagship public universities in all 50 states. These statistics both prove the noteworthy nature of the successes of the participants interviewed and the critical need for reforms aimed at supporting Black male achievements.

The study found that all the participants had strong family support systems with the assumption that, even in families with no background of higher education, there was never question of whether or not to go to college. Instead, the question was where to go. Other key findings suggested that parental knowledge of the college process was a key factor for college entry, including how to enroll students in college preparatory programs, how to select colleges and how to apply for scholarships. Secondary and postsecondary school teachers and guidance counselors were often found to maintain practices that negatively affected Black male students’ opportunities, and so, the study recommends professional development programs that will help those counselors focus energies on alleviating educational disparities and learn how to better work with minority students.    

Other recommendations included connecting teens to effective college preparatory experiences, removing financial barriers to college enrollment, building summer programs to facilitate the high school to college transition, assuming institutional responsibility for black male achievement, supporting ethnic student organizations, developing peer support venues, addressing campus racial issues, solving masculinity and gender relationship misperceptions within the Black male student population,  and creating affirming spaces for gay, bisexual, and questioning Black students, if not just improving LGBT programs overall. The recommendations in this report suggest there is a strong role for policymakers.  Lifting barriers and creating opportunities through policy is an essential role in ensuring equitable outcomes and supporting black male students on their path to success.

For more information on how to reduce disparities in education, see our Policy for Results reports on Increasing College Completion, Increasing High School Completion, and Improving Early Grade-Level Reading.


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