‘Alarming’ Drop Found in Black Males’ College-Going Rate

January 25, 1989 5 min read
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The enrollment of black students in higher education increased by only half a percentage point between 1984 and 1986--a growth rate lagging far behind that for other major minority groups, an analysis by the American Council on Education has found.

Minority enrollment grew, over all, by 7.6 percent during the period, a report by the Washington-based higher-education group says. But the double-digit percentage increases registered by Asians and Hispanics, it says, served to “mask the ... stagnation of black enrollment.”

Black enrollment in 1984, the report notes, had been 2.8 percent below the 1980 peak of 1.1 million students.

In addition to its review of the 1984-86 data, the “Seventh Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education” assesses progress in the decade from 1976--when racial and ethnic breakdowns were first made available--to 1986.

It concludes that, although high-school completion rates for both blacks and Hispanics have risen substantially in the 10-year period, a lower percentage of these graduates are entering college.

Most striking, the report says, has been the “alarming” decline in the participation rate of young black males. That group represents, it says, the only enrollment decrease among minorities over the decade--a slippage of 7.2 percent.

In 1976, black males made up 4.3 percent of the total college enrollment; in 1986, the figure was down to 3.5 percent.

Black Males ‘At Risk’

In contrast, the report notes, “black women held relatively steady at 5.1 percent of enrollments in 1976 and 5.2 percent in 1986.”

The pattern of disparity in the black male-to-female ratio holds true, it says, in graduate school and in faculty employment, and is “less a consequence of significant increases for black women than of a decline for black men.”

“Black males are disproportionately at risk in American society,” the document asserts in a special section devoted to the problem. “They begin life in circumstances that diminish their chances of educational attainment. During the past decade, many relevant social and economic indicators have worsened, which casts doubt on a near-term reversal of the situation.”

Among those indicators, it says, are well-documented tendencies among elementary and secondary educators to expect less of black males and to punish and label them more.

Among the report’s suggestions for remedying the situation are better federal data collection, disaggregated by sex, and more refined studies of black self-image and motivation.

It also recommends a restructuring of financial-aid policies; better research on the quality of proprietary schools, which attract a disproportionate share of young blacks, especially men; and follow-up studies on black males who enter the military to see if inservice educational opportunities are being used.

Studies assessing the impact of the declining number of black schoolteachers on black males’ academic attainment should also be undertaken, the report says, as well as research on the effect of state testing programs on blacks’ enrollment in teacher education.

In addition, it says, “higher education, in concert with improved elementary and secondary schools, can do more and better than it has in the past to increase the educational attainment of black males.”

The report cites a number of colleges that have targeted recruitment and retention efforts specifically at black men, among them Stockton State College in New Jersey, Xavier College in Louisiana, and Maryland’s Prince George’s Community College.

“These programs should be encouraged, studied, and emulated,” it says.

In a separate report released last week, the New England Board of Higher Education urged, in addition, that institutions take “new agel10lgressive steps to eradicate racism on campus” and increase minority representation on boards of trustees.

That report, “Equity and Pluralism: Full Participation of Blacks and Hispanics in New England Higher Education,” echoed many of the ace report’s findings and called for a “renewed regionwide commitment on behalf of minority access” from leaders in government, business, media, and education.

Other Findings

The ace study, compiled from U.S. Census Bureau data, federal education reports, and other studies, also included the following findings:

Between 1976 and 1986, the 18-to-24-year-old Hispanic population increased by 62 percent, and the number of high-school graduates within it increased by 75 percent. But despite these gains, the college-going rate of the Hispanic high-school graduates, as measured by actual enrollments, declined--from 35.8 percent in 1976 to a low of 26.9 percent in 1985.

The percentage of Hispanic high-school graduates who were either currently attending college or had completed one or more years of higher education dropped from 48.9 percent to 45 percent during the decade, while the comparable statistic for white high-school graduates rose from 53.5 percent to 55.3 percent. For blacks, the percentage declined from 50.4 percent to 47.4 percent.

More than 55 percent of Hispanics and 57 percent of American Indians enrolled in higher education attended two-year institutions, compared with 37 percent of all college students.

Graduate enrollments for blacks, Hispanics, and Asians increased between 1984 and 1986, but did not change for American Indians. The upward swing in graduate enrollments by blacks reversed an earlier trend.

The increase in the total minority enrollment was led by jumps of 17 percent in the number of Asian students enrolled and 15 percent in the number of Hispanics. Despite the latter rise, however, Hispanics accounted for only 5 percent of total college enrollment.

The black share of college enrollment, meanwhile, fell from 9.4 percent in 1976 to 8.6 percent in 1986.

Enrollment distribution by gender was reversed during the decade. In 1976, women accounted for 47.3 percent of the total enrollment, while men made up 52.7 percent. By 1986, women represented 53 percent of the total.

Copies of the ace report are available for $8 each, prepaid, from the Office of Minority Concerns, American Council on Education, 1 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Copies of “Equity and Pluralism” are available from the nebhe, 45 Temple Place, Boston, Mass. 02111.

A version of this article appeared in the January 25, 1989 edition of Education Week as ‘Alarming’ Drop Found in Black Males’ College-Going Rate


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