Commentary: How Black Men Can Succeed in College

A new study lays out the factors that help Black men do well in higher education. Paradoxically, it’s not that hard, and it’s very hard.

Posted: 02/08/2012 09:28 AM EST
National News, racism, education, African American college students

For years now Black leaders, nonprofit organizations, and even major government entities have been trying to figure out how to save young Black men. Black men go to college far less than Black women — even when accounting for HBCUs. Black men go to prison at disproportionate rates. In a word, Black men are struggling, and many people are confounded as to how to help them. However, as with many things in life, it turns out Black male achievement might not be as difficult as everyone is making it seem.


According to a new report released this week called “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education,” preparing Black men to do well in college and, afterward, life, isn’t impossible, nor is it even all that complex. Says Shaun R. Harper, author of the study and associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Black men with the same opportunities as their counterparts do just as well in higher education.


Harper says that the difference between the high-achieving Black males and their less-achieving Black friends and family members is often hard to see. But the difference is there in important ways.


Inside Higher Ed reports:

What does differentiate them, the study suggests, is a complex stew of mostly external factors that appeared to give them a sense that college was not only possible but expected, and engaged them academically and otherwise in their schools and colleges. Among those influences: involved parents with high expectations for them; at least one K-12 teacher who took a personal interest in their academic and personal future; adequate financial support to pay for college; and a transition to college in which high expectations were set for them as much if not more by influential Black male juniors and seniors at their institutions as by formal programs designed to smooth their way.


In other words, what helps propel Black men toward reaching their potential are the same things that propel white men toward reaching their potential: supportive families, financial stability, and goal-setting. It’s not that hard. What is hard is making sure families are supportive and making sure families are financially prepared to afford things like college and useful tools for education (computers, expensive books, etc.). Once you can get a Black man into college, ensuring he succeeds isn’t that hard, but it’s getting him there that’s the real fight.


The sickness in American politics right now is that every politician seems to be demanding that the Black community do well without supporting the kinds of programs that help the Black community do well. I’m not sure there’s anyone who doesn’t want to see more Black men in college, but there are certainly politicians who don’t want to give proper funding to our public schools, or provide unemployment benefits to families out of work so that they might be able to focus on a child’s education instead of whether they can pay their bills. These kinds of ancillary things have a real impact on future successes, and not being able to see that connection is a woeful blindness in America today.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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