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BET.com
updated 1/14/2004 11:43:18 AM ET 2004-01-14T16:43:18

The Amazing Vanishing black male is playing at a college campus near you.

There is an ever-widening gap between black male college enrollees and their female and white counterparts, says the D.C.-based American Council on Education (ACE).

Twenty years ago, according to ACE's "Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education," 30 percent of African American male high school graduates (ages 18 to 24) were enrolled in college, compared with 28 percent of same-age black females and 41 percent of white males.

Now, some 37 percent of black men are enrolled, compared with 42 percent of African American women and 44.5 percent of white males.  (So while there are more black males enrolling in college today than 20 years ago, other groups have outstripped them in enrolling and, even more importantly, in retention rates.

The graduation rate of black men is lower than that of any group. Only 35 percent of black males enrollees graduated within six years from N.C.A.A. Division I colleges in 1996, compared with 59 percent of white males, 46 percent of Hispanic men, 41 percent of American Indian males and 45 percent of the black women who entered the same year.

Surveys and reports are hinting that the country's educational apparatus is stacked against the black male. According to the Manhattan Institute's Education Research Office, fewer than one in five students of color have graduated from high school, have a set of college-prep courses on their high school transcripts and "demonstrate basic literacy" – the necessities for being "college ready."

Another glaring problem, says Arlethia Perry-Johnson, chairwoman of Georgia's African American Male Initiative (AAMI), is that black males are disproportionately labeled as discipline and behavioral problems and fast-tracked out of high schools through expulsions and suspensions.

As if that's not enough, says ACE's William Harvey, there's a virtual drying up of federal aid-to-education grant money coupled with jacked-up tuitions, which make it necessary for low-income students to assume an average $20,000 debt to finish a four-year curriculum.

"For those in the lower economic category, the availability of financial aid determines who gets to go to college and who doesn't, " observes Harvey.

Harvey points out that, over the years, federal funding has undergone a "complete reversal," from "a 70 –percent to 30 percent grant-to-loan ratio 20 years ago" to the exact opposite today.

"An 18-year-old male will be more inclined to say, 'I want money in my pocket now' and attempt to get a job," adds Harvey. "But many take on the debt, become part-time students, work 20-plus hours a week and become five-year students at a four-year college."

The inequity of that educational apparatus is especially clear when you look at the black males who persevere – those who go on to finish high school, earn a bachelor's degree and even finish grad school.

A recently released Census report shows that, whether they have a high school diploma or a master's degree, black men will earn roughly 25 percent less than Whites.

AAMI was created by the University System of Georgia to find ways to increase college enrollment and graduation rates among black men.

Six colleges within the state were awarded $10,000 each by AAMI last year to whip up enthusiasm and black males enrollment numbers within their local communities.

Albany State University's program is a success, says Perry-Johnson, who also serves as USG associate vice chancellor. "Their summer-only program concentrates on those who failed their student achievement tests (S.A.T.) with a three-week, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. rigorous tutoring regimen that has resulted in a retaking of the tests, passing them and [scores] of new college admissions," Perry-Johnson says.

A key to the success, offers Perry-Johnson, is that the program "wholly removes the young men from their community and allows them to live on the Albany State campus during the mentoring and tutoring period. It works."

Other recommendations made by the AAMI include:

"The isolating and labeling of black males goes all the way back to Head Start programs," observes Perry-Johnson.

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