Where the Boys Aren't: The Decline of Black Males in Colleges and Universities Has Sociologists and Educators Concerned about the Future of the African American Community

By Hefner, David | Black Issues in Higher Education, June 17, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Where the Boys Aren't: The Decline of Black Males in Colleges and Universities Has Sociologists and Educators Concerned about the Future of the African American Community


Hefner, David, Black Issues in Higher Education


The opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter ... for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.

--W.E.B. Du Bois THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK, 1903

When sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote these words more than 100 years ago, life in America was infinitely different for Blacks. For all its evils, segregation offered the sobering reality to Blacks that progress occurred when they themselves fought for it. And Black men, at the turn of the 20th century, upheld the sometimes deadly responsibility of being provider and protector of a community that was often exposed to danger.

Education, many believed then, was not only worth dying for, but was the Golden Fleece that best combated the vestiges of enslavement. By the 20th century, fueled by the work of the Freedmen's Bureau, several colleges for African Americans were established to grant Blacks what had been denied them for so long--the right to know.

Today, as the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the case that ended legal segregation in American public schools, young Black men are, by most social indicators, unraveling at the seams. More are being incarcerated, more are rejecting fatherhood, more are dropping out of high school and fewer are going to college. And, in nearly half of Black households today, the responsibility of provider and protector has shifted to Black women.

Education in the African American community was once viewed as the key to living the "American dream." It's now viewed by many young Black males as an unnecessary barrier that stands between them and making fast money.

It is against the backdrop of the Brown anniversary, as well as Black Issues' 20th anniversary, that we examine how Black men have fared in higher education over the last two decades. In short, the state of Black males is disturbing. The decline of Black men enrolling in institutions of higher education has both sociologists and educators concerned. Du Bois, they say, had it right in 1903: Education is still an important indicator for future social success or failure.

"Economically, this damages the economic standing of Black men," says Dr. Bruce Western, a sociology professor at Princeton University who studies criminal justice and education policy with the Justice Policy Institute in Washington.

A "college education has insulated, to some degree, male workers from declining real wages. As the education level of Black men falls in relation to the rest of the labor three, their economic position will also deteriorate," Western says. "This also has all sorts of secondary effects. The marriage market for Black women will not be so appealing because there will be relatively few partners with a college education, for example."

Dr. Obie Clayton, chair of the sociology department at Morehouse College, time nation's only historically Black all-male private school, agrees.

"Black women am delaying marriage because Black men are not marriageable," says Clayton, director of the Morehouse Research Institute for the Study of African American Men. "These low marriage rates will continue and more babies will be raised in single families regardless of economic circumstance.... The family will suffer in terms of median household income.... And education is one of the biggest indicators of health status. ... We're seeing increases in suicide rates in Black men, increases in drug use in older Black men, and mental illness among Black men is on the rise."

'FEMINIZATION' OF THE ACADEMY

In almost every academic category, the 20-year growth rate of Black men in higher education is extraordinarily slow when compared with other groups, particularly their female counterparts.

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