Georgia on the Mind: The State's Higher Education System Puts Research, Policy Focus on Black Males

Article excerpt

Among education researchers and higher education administrators around the nation, it is well known that African American male college attendance and completion rates are lagging behind those of males in other racial and ethnic groups as well as behind those of African American women. Yet the prospect for wide-scale public intervention has remained virtually dormant because states and localities have not yet linked the overall health of their economies and social order to the status of a vulnerable racial and gender group like young Black men.

In Georgia, however, concern about Black male college attendance and retention has become a front and center public policy research priority as well as an arena for policy intervention. It has been made so because state officials recognized that improving Black male educational status has serious implications for the state's long-term economic and social health.

"It's extraordinarily important that we look at this issue. We have a major segment of our population missing in the process of obtaining higher education," says Dr. Thomas C. Meredith, chancellor of the University of Georgia system.

Education officials say it's unprecedented that a state has elevated what has traditionally been a concern of individual researchers mad a few academic institutes into a matter &priority for that state's higher education system. Over the past couple of years, the state has funded a major study on Black male educational attainment and the lack of college enrollment and completion. The regents have also adopted the study's recommendations and provided some funding for programs and public service announcements to boost Black male academic achievement in the state.

"Georgia's in the spotlight, mid the nation's watching," says Dr. Deryl Bailey, a University of Georgia education professor and the founder of a Black male academic achievement program in Athens, Ga.

Next year, the Georgia legislature will consider an appropriation request that could grow the $300,000 African American Male Initiative to a $1.5 million program, thus boosting the number of and research on developmental programs targeted at young Black male students in the public K-12 system as well as in the state's 34 public colleges.

State officials say that while the legislative debate on Black male initiatives will prove decisive to the direction of public support for Black male intervention initiatives, they are eager to point to the research that has been undertaken as a model for other states and organizations. Officials also believe that private support will play a major role in shaping Black male intervention efforts in Georgia.

"We think there will be a balance between public and private support of these initiatives," Meredith says.

In addition to Georgia's public colleges, the issue of Black male college enrollment has been tackled by a number of historically Black colleges and universities. But rather than focus on systemic education issues, the HBCUs have appealed to Black males largely by adjustments in recruiting efforts and campus programs. For example, Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., have found that reinstating college football programs have gone a long way toward attracting Black male students to their respective campuses.

Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber, the president of St. Augustine's College, said a plan that reinstated a football program during the 2002-2003 year has played a significant part in growing total enrollment over the past two years. As of early September, the school had enrolled 819 males and 758 females, marking for the first time in its history a higher male enrollment than female.

"Reinstating football was done to help increase overall enrollment, but it's bad a significant effect in making our school more attractive to young men," Suber says, noting that male enrollment has increased 4 percent over the previous year. …