Women increasingly outnumber men among students at U.S. higher education institutions, a trend that has left some colleges and universities struggling to recruit and retain male students, according to The Hechinger Report. Men of color in particular are less likely to attend college than white men. Although Historically Black Colleges and Universities have recently seen enrollment increases, fewer men are attending these institutions, as well.
Now some schools are devising recruitment and intervention strategies that specifically address financial, academic, and cultural barriers that tend to drive men, and specifically men of color, away from higher education.
One of those obstacles is a fear of asking for help, Malcolm X College President David Sanders tells The Hechinger Report.
“There’s an expectation for a male,” he said. “He’s supposed to be strong and not show weakness. If I can’t read or write at college level, I can’t show that.”
To create a culture of support, Chicago’s Malcolm X College, which has a student population that is three-quarters female after experiencing high stop-out rates among Black male students, started a mentoring program that pairs two Black male students with one faculty member or employee. Although 43% of Black male students overall stopped out of Malcolm X College between Fall 2021 and Spring 2022, 93% of the men in the mentoring program stayed, says Sanders.
In California, community colleges are working with the African American Male Education Network and Development program, or A2MEND, to improve their outreach to Black men and match them with mentors who provide academic guidance, professional development training, and a social support network. A2MEND has also awarded $700,000 in scholarships, according to Amanuel Gebru, president of the A2MEND board and vice president of student support at Moorpark College, a community college in California.
To boost retention rates in Appalachia, Berea College in Kentucky, which has 18% fewer male students now than in 2019, developed Male Initiatives for white, Black, and Latine men. As part of its focus on helping male students forge bonds with each other, the program has organized dinners and road trips to baseball games and museums to facilitate a sense of community.
“We pull out our hair trying to figure out how to get them engaged,” says Rick Childers, a Berea alumnus who leads the Appalachian initiative. “It’s come down to they just want to relax and blow off some steam with each other.”
Addressing root causes
For Black male students to feel included on campus, they need to see themselves reflected in university faculty and staff and education programming, experts say. Although the U.S. population is 13.6% Black, according to Census data, just 7% of faculty members in the U.S. are Black, says the National Center for Education Statistics. At Moorpark College, that number is 2%. To improve enrollment and retention rates, Moorpark offers counseling and mentorship programs for Black and Latine men, summer trips to Africa, and workshops training professors on how to best teach men. The college has also requested every department gather data that measures male students’ success.
Despite these efforts, higher education institutions still have to contend with a culture of masculinity that values making money over attending college, especially for men from economically disadvantaged communities who often grow to believe a postsecondary education isn’t for them.
To counter these narratives, the American Psychological Association formed a Task Force on Boys in School to help educators understand the academic and emotional needs of young boys and implement programs that support their academic success as they grow into adulthood.
“[R]igid conceptions of masculinity, that include anti-school sentiments, harm their well-being and contribute to adverse outcomes in education,” the task force says on its website. “All boys have the capacity to reach their full potential, especially within schools; yet, many boys experience unnecessary and preventable distress and hardship.”