Why Is Black Male Enrollment in Decline?

Learn about the reasons for the decline in the enrollment of Black men and how colleges can support their retention.

portrait of Ciera Graham, Ph.D.
by Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published February 23, 2022

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Why Is Black Male Enrollment in Decline?

COVID-19 impacted the enrollment rates of colleges and universities nationwide. Undergraduate enrollment declined by 3.2% in fall 2021, following a drop of 3.4% in 2020.

Community colleges were the hardest hit, experiencing a 10% decline in enrollment nationally in fall 2020. Community colleges continued to see an enrollment drop of over 5% in fall 2021.

In general, enrollment numbers for men have shown a sharp decline in recent years. Black men, especially, have enrolled in college at lower rates.

Black families were hit significantly and disproportionately harder during the pandemic, experiencing unprecedented job and income loss.

However, Black men, in particular, have historically experienced unique barriers to college and job entry and degree completion.

Trends in Black Male Enrollment

Overall, male college enrollment rates have been declining over the past decade and COVID-19 only accelerated this decline. College enrollment for Black men dropped 14.3% in spring 2021, compared to spring 2020.

Community colleges typically enroll more racial and ethnic minority students and learners with a lower socioeconomic status. And these schools have seen the sharpest decline in Black male enrollment.

The number of Black male students at two-year colleges declined 21.5% in spring 2021.

Undoubtedly, colleges are experiencing a Black male enrollment crisis nationwide. Many colleges have not only taken note of this trend, but they have also developed targeted enrollment initiatives and programs.

Reasons for Enrollment Decline

Black men face discrimination and obstacles that can inhibit their ability to enroll and then remain in college. The reasons for the enrollment decline and low numbers are often historically systemic rooted in a continued dehumanization and exclusion of Black men in America.

Here are four key reasons for the observed enrollment decline:

Reason No. 1: Black men have access to fewer financial resources

College tuition has significantly increased over the last decade, but the socioeconomic status of Black men has not. Black men have the highest unemployment rates of any race/gender group. They also have the lowest labor force participation and employment rates among men.

With lower educational attainment and continued exclusion from higher-paying jobs, Black men are unable to gain the financial resources to afford college.

Reason No. 2: Black youths are more likely to be suspended in secondary school

Black students are significantly and disproportionately impacted by school suspensions. They are more likely to be suspended from school during their middle and high school years.

When students are suspended from school, they suffer significant instructional loss and are more likely to fall behind or even drop out. This then affects their college trajectory. The instructional loss due to suspensions is also greater for Black male students than for Black female students.

Reason No. 3: Black male students lack access to role models in education

For Black students, having role models who share their cultural worldview can be critical to their academic persistence and retention. At the K-12 level, there is a shortage of Black male teachers. This can have an enormous impact on Black students' sense of belonging.

If Black students are not seeing educators who look like them, they lack access to mentors who can help encourage their college goals. They may even feel discouraged about their college aspirations.

Reason No. 4: College campuses can be racially hostile to Black men

Students of color report experiencing microaggressions and incidences of racism and discrimination on college campuses. This has a significant impact on not only their retention and completion rates but also on whether or not they choose to enroll in college at all.

Black men who attend college often deal with negative stereotypes about their perceived criminality, especially when incidents occur on campus.

Without access to Black male role models or other Black peers on campus, Black men may feel alone and isolated especially at predominantly white colleges.

How Colleges Can Address This Issue

What can colleges and universities do to encourage Black men to enroll in college?

Addressing the enrollment crisis for Black men involves a multi-faceted approach and strategic and targeted recruitment initiatives.

Enrollment initiatives that provide comprehensive wrap-around services such as social integration, exposure to campus life, mentorship on essential life skills, and financial aid have proven to be most successful.

Many colleges are focusing on creating specific Black male recruitment events.

For example, St. Louis Community College-Forest Park launched a Black Male Achievers Academy. This six-week college prep program focuses on Black men entering their first semester of college. Participants take college courses, earn credits, get academic information and tips, and receive scholarship support.

Similarly, Highline College offers its annual Black and Brown Male Summit. The event hosts speakers, mentors young men on college and racial identity, and exposes high school students to campus life and the college experience.

These are two examples of early intervention efforts that can help Black men get on the path to entering college and pursuing a degree.

Overall, colleges need to focus on creating inclusive college campuses for Black men. This includes teaching culturally relevant curriculum, hiring Black male faculty and administrators, and providing specific student-involvement and leadership opportunities for Black men.

Resources for Black College Men

There are plenty of resources available to support the enrollment and retention of Black men in college. These include:

Conclusion

Increasing the college enrollment of Black men is not an easy feat. It will require a multi-dimensional and comprehensive approach.

Getting a college education is one of the keys to social mobility. In order to ensure all students have equitable access to a college education, we must acknowledge the need for targeted support for Black men.


Feature Image: Vadym Pastukh / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images