Amid the profusion of dismal statistics about black male students’ college-enrollment rates nationwide, the University System of Georgia recently showcased a ray of light: Over the past five years, black male enrollment at the state’s 35 public colleges and universities has jumped 25 percent.
That change has effectively closed Georgia’s gender gap in the rate of enrollment growth among African-American men and women within the university system.
The accomplishments of the 5- year-old African-American Male Initiative, or AAMI, which operates through a network of 21 programs at 16 campuses across the state, were highlighted at the program’s inaugural conference at Kennesaw State University on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
“There are data all over the place that black males are not enrolling or persisting at comparable rates to black women and other groups, but despite all the conferences and all the data, few institutions have courageously rolled up their sleeves … to take on that problem,” said Shaun R. Harper, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of education who studies college diversity and gender-disparity issues.
“The thing that has impressed me most about this initiative,” he said, “is that for once, there is a system that is taking a strategic and coordinated approach to the challenge of black male enrollment.”
The program began in 2002, when one particular statistic jumped out at university-system officials: In that fall’s class of entering freshmen, black women outnumbered black men more than two to one—about 35,000 to about 17,000.
Starting with an investment of $60,000 spread among six institutions, the system began building and nurturing a network of programs aimed at enrolling, retaining, and graduating black men in greater numbers.
“It’s a pipeline program,” said Arlethia Perry-Johnson, who directs the AAMI, which is based at Kennesaw State, located north of Atlanta in Kennesaw, Ga.
Each of the programs is tailored to the needs of students at each of the participating colleges, which range from the flagship University of Georgia, in Athens, to historically black colleges and universities, to community colleges.
Some programs are focused on supporting entering students and students already in college with study-skills and college-life workshops. Others partner with nearby school districts to offer dual-enrollment programs, SATprep courses, and recruitment of high schoolers and middle schoolers.
Danette S. Gerald, the assistant director of higher education policy for the Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that seeks to improve the education of low-income and minority students, noted with approval that the growth in the number of black male enrollees at University System of Georgia institutions appeared to outpace the growth in the number of black male Georgia high school graduates during at least the past three years.
But, she said, the university system’s collective increase of 25 percent in enrollment among black males does not appear to be distributed equally among its campuses.
At the University of Georgia, about 2 percent of students are black men. At the states’ openenrollment community colleges, black men account for about 11 percent of students.
“What the research tells us is that students who earn a baccalaureate degree are, over time, going to have access to … the most lucrative rewards and benefits of society, even relative to those who attend two-year degree programs, and that students who start out at those four-year institutions are more likely to reach that goal [of graduating with a bachelor’s degree],” said Ms. Gerald.
“I think we need to be concerned with not just whether certain students are going to college, but where they’re going to college, and the system needs to pay attention to that,” she added.
More Data Awaited
“Even though we’re closing the gap, it’s still a struggle,” Ms. Perry-Johnson acknowledged.
Although the program is too new to measure its impact on college retention and graduation, “we do know that we are having an impact in terms of other organizations,” said Ms. Perry-Johnson, who estimated that the AAMI has had inquiries from about 30 colleges and universities from as far away as Minnesota and New York.
The City University of New York system’s Black Male Initiative program was patterned in part on the AAMI, according to Elliott Dawes, the director of the City University of New York Black Male Initiative.
“I would like to see more data about how these [Georgia] institutions have transformed themselves to support and engender black male college achievement before I say that everyone should look at the University System of Georgia as a national model of excellence,” said the University of Pennsylvania’s Mr. Harper.
But, he added, “it certainly gives me tremendous hope and confirmation of what is possible when a system or an institution commits itself and commits its resources.”