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Providing Support for Young Black Men in College

The Georgia African American Male Experience is among programs nationwide that promote the success of black male college students. This University of Georgia program offers leadership training, mentoring, tutoring and exposure to a variety of extracurricular activities and events. Photos courtesy Georgia African American Male Experience

Young African-American men are far less likely to graduate from college than other segments of the population.

A little more than one-third of full-time black male college students got a degree in six years, compared with 59 percent of white male students, according to a December 2016 report by the research firm MRDC.

The factors that inhibit attainment for black male college students start before college, said Alissa Gardenhire, research associate at MRDC and co-author of the report.

Black male students have lower levels of college preparation, she said. They are more likely to attend under-resourced schools that have poor academic outcomes, according to the report.

They face financial barriers such as having to work full-time while in school, she said.

“Social and emotional support can be absent,” Gardenhire said.

Support from family, school, community and church — support that many students take for granted — can be lacking, she said.

In response, colleges have begun to look at ways to recruit and support young men of color in gaining degrees.

“There’s been a pretty consistent effort of five to 10 years,” Gardenhire said.

But not enough is known about the effectiveness of these programs, she said, because

“there hasn’t been research that’s been causal.”

Some programs for younger boys have been found to be effective in improving academic attainment, according to a 2014 MRDC report.

Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring was found to cut school absenteeism and drug use by half among 10- to 16-year-olds in the program and to give them greater confidence in doing schoolwork. (The students’ relationships with their parents and peers also improved.)

The Becoming a Man program, which uses small group counseling, positive adult role models and after-school programming and cognitive behavioral therapy, was found to raise graduation rates 19 percent.

[Related: At Big Thought, Gigi Antoni Has Taken a Big-Picture Approach to Out-of-school Learning]

School-based Career Academies was “one of the few high school initiatives with rigorous evidence of effectiveness,” Gardenhire wrote.

To understand what works for young black men in college, MRDC began by scanning programs across the country.

It found 82 programs that provide support for black male students at community colleges, universities and technical colleges in 30 states across the United States.

Programs most commonly found are of five general types, according to the 2016 report:

  • Academic advising and counseling, which helps students create a pathway of course
  • Tutoring and study skills training
  • Leadership training through planning activities, community service and coordinating meetings
  • Mentoring
  • Special events or workshops focusing on identity and student success.

Nine out of 10 programs used some type of mentoring, and most programs used a combination of the above components, researchers found.

MRDC will be working with an initiative in the University System of Georgia for the next four years to gather information on effectiveness.

The Georgia African-American Male Initiative (AAMI) was begun in 2002 and is now active at 26 of the 30 campuses in the system, according to the AAMI website. While the organization shows an increase in enrollment — from 17,068 black male students enrolled in fall 2002 to 31,592 in fall 2016 — and in the number of degrees conferred annually, graduation rates remain in the 34 percent range. (For the 2010 cohort of students, 1,136 of 3,315 in the cohort had graduated by 2016, according to Arlethia Perry-Johnson, AAMI’s project director.

Editor’s note: Arlethia Perry-Johnson is also vice president of marketing at Kennesaw State University, where the Center for Sustainable Journalism — publisher of Youth Today — is housed.

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