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Only Four Percent of College Students Are Black Males

A new study sheds some light on how to grow their ranks.

Less than half of black males graduate from high school, and they represent only 4 percent of college students—dire statistics that are nothing new to those familiar with America's black male achievement crisis. But what enables some black males to overcome significant obstacles and go on to attend—and graduate from—college?

The inaugural National Black Male College Achievement Study, the largest ever qualitative research study of its kind, seeks to shed some light on what's working for those black men who become high achievers in order to replicate their success with their peers. Produced by Shaun Harper, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the school's Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, the study is based on interviews with 219 students at 42 colleges across the United States.

The study focus on how the students, 56.7 percent of whom came from low-income or working class families, acquired the resources to succeed. It also looks at how students "negotiated popularity alongside achievement in peer groups and thrived in environments that were sometimes racist and often culturally unresponsive."

One of the key findings is that even when the men came from families where neither parent had gone to college, from "boyhood through high school, parents and other family members" presented higher education as a "non-negotiable" expectation. Nearly all participants also had "at least one influential teacher who helped solidify their interest in going to college" and "went beyond typical teaching duties" to ensure that they had the resources and support they needed to succeed.

Indeed, the students identified "serendipity not aptitude" as the biggest factor that set them apart from their peers who did not go to college. Most of the respondents said other black males have the same potential but were not lucky enough to encounter "people or culturally relevant experiences that motivated them."

To boost the number of black male college students, the study recommends that black parents be educated about the college process and set the higher education expectation for their boys early on. It also recommends that teacher preparation programs must adjust their training to prepare educators "to do more of what is required to reduce racial inequities in education.

Those kinds of suggestions have been offered by reports before, but perhaps this particular study will spur a new level of action. Otherwise, most black boys will be stuck waiting for a lucky break.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user John Steven Fernandez

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