Recent and historical data shows that the African American male college graduation rate is lower than the national average. Universities have struggled to attract and retain well-prepared African American male college students. However, leaders and researchers focused on education have been making progress. Today, we understand what drives college graduation rates more than ever before, and we can use this information to better support students.
How do African American male college graduation rates compare to the national average?
According to data compiled by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the African American male college graduation rate from 2010 to 2016 was 40%. By contrast, the six-year graduation rate among African American females was 49%. The same data reported the graduation rates for white students and Asian American students at 69% and 77% respectively.
These numbers indicate significant opportunity to improve the African American male college graduation rate, bringing the rate more in line with that of students from other racial backgrounds.
Why is it important to improve African American male college graduation rates?
The racial makeup of the United States is changing: in the next 20 years, minorities are projected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites in the US. Specifically, the African American population of the United States is growing at a rate more than double the growth rate of the non-Hispanic white population.
We must address the skills and education gaps among the fastest growing minority segments of the population, because we will rely on these communities to provide the next generation of leaders. The United States already has a greater need for engineers than our education system produces. If we don’t invest in the fastest growing segments of our population now, we will see this gap and other gaps like it widen.
Why are African American male college graduation rates low?
For African American college students – like all students – the university environment often presents new and difficult challenges. Some African American male students enter college coming from a high school where they were among the best and the brightest. At the college level, competition is higher. Courses are more difficult. These are challenges that a lot of students may never have faced before.
In addition to new academic challenges, African American male college students often face non-academic challenges such as the need to balance work and school. Having a job in college puts pressure on students to manage their time wisely. Students must find time to attend class, finish assignments, and show up to work. This can be particularly challenging in group project settings, where project partners may not face the same scheduling pressures.
Finally, unlike non-minority students from low income families, black low income college students may also struggle with racial isolation. Many African American male college students come from communities that are predominantly African American or where African Americans are better represented than they are in a typical university student body. This can make college feel like a hostile environment. Students can feel uncomfortable, which makes them less likely to ask for help or utilize all the resources available to them. They may also experience stigma or be perceived as underprepared or undeserving of their place at the university.
How to improve African American male college graduation rates
Our approach to improving the African American male college graduation rate centers around financial aid and mentoring. Formal and informal mentoring has been shown to improve academic performance as well as mental health and wellbeing. Alongside scholarships and mentoring, specific university programs can also boost the African American male college graduate rate. Studies have shown that the universities with the highest African American male college graduate rates provide robust orientation and retention programs for minority students and admit a large class of African American students each year.