Colleges create new roles to support Black male students’ academic success

Some colleges and universities are adding staff dedicated to the academic success of Black men in hopes of increasing their enrollment and completion. In creating the roles, leaders at these institutions “believe they’re at the forefront of a new and long overdue trend,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

‘We can’t do what we have done in the past’

The new investments go a step farther than the pilot projects and targeted programming some institutions have tried over the years.

Compton College, a community college south of Los Angeles, recently brought on its first director of Black and males of color success, Antonio Banks, and has hired a recruiter focused on enrolling men of color. Just under half of Compton College students receive Pell grants, and nearly two-thirds reported experiencing housing insecurity in 2019. The institution has seen a sharp drop in Black and Latinx enrollment during the pandemic.

Banks, who started in November, is charged with ensuring that each of the college’s academic pathways have robust programs and tailored resources for Black men and men of color, in effect creating “a Black community within each of the guided pathway divisions.” Banks will drive the efforts, but existing student success teams will execute them, engaging stakeholders throughout the campus.

“I know that we can’t do what we have done in the past,” Keith Curry, Compton’s president and CEO, told Inside Higher Ed. “You have to have someone responsible for this work. I believe that this is the model.” Noting that he has fielded calls from other community colleges interested in creating roles similar to Banks’s position, Curry says he “would love for this to be the new trend.”

Tackling decades-long disparities

College, career, and earnings outcomes for Black men have lagged for decades. The pandemic only exacerbated matters: according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Black male enrollment at U.S. colleges fell by 10.6 percent between fall 2019 and fall 2020 and another 4.7 percent as of fall 2021.

Higher education experts note that Black male students face unique hurdles, starting in K-12, when they are more likely to be disciplined than white peers. Upon heading to college, they may “lack navigational capital” about juggling school amid financial strain and competing job and family responsibilities. Black men also are more likely than their white counterparts to experience basic needs insecurity.

Men, in general, tend to be “socially and culturally conditioned” not to ask for help, and Black men are more likely than white men to feel that their instructors have a negative view of their engagement or intelligence, Derrick Perkins, director of the Center for Male Engagement at the Community College of Philadelphia, a predominantly Black institution, told Inside Higher Ed.

Perkins’s center serves around 300 Black male students, providing academic support and a summer enrichment program. Perkins says he wears many hats—administrator, mentor, counselor, and big brother, among them—in his role and hopes that positions like his eventually will “be the norm” at colleges.

The next frontier for diversity efforts?

Edward Bush, president of Sacramento-based Cosumnes River College, echoes this aspiration, calling positions like Perkins’s the “next evolution” of campuses’ diversity initiatives. Cosumnes River College for several years has had an outreach specialist who focuses on enrolling Black men.

The proliferation of campus leaders focused on supporting Black men could hinge on having race- and gender-specific data on student success, said Shaun Harper, the executive director of the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center.

“If you don’t know the extent to which you’re disadvantaging Black women specifically or Black men specifically, you’re not going to go and create a position” to address that, he told Inside Higher Ed.

A campus-wide commitment to supporting Black male students also will be crucial, Harper noted. “I do not think that a college should just go out and hire a person and they’re like, ‘All right, this person is supposed to be the caretaker for all Black men on campus. Good luck.’”

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