Commentary: Debunking Education Myths About Blacks


Commentary: Debunking Education Myths About Blacks

Show Me the Numbers:'s series with the "Journal of Negro Education" shows that the news about Blacks and education isn't all bad.

Published July 19, 2012

(The Root) — U.S. census data show that when you look at Americans ages 15 to 25, there are 3.9 million fewer white males now than there were in 1970, and 2.5 million more Black males. So why do we so often hear phrases like, "The reality is ... African-American males are a dying breed"? (And have you ever noticed that "breed," "extinct" and "endangered" are terms reserved for animals and black males?)


Questioning such notions, which are not based on fact but are repeated so often that they have been treated as gospel truth, is the mission of Show Me the Numbers. This new monthly series, published in association with Howard University's Journal of Negro Education, of which I am editor-in-chief, will provide a big-picture analysis of some of the most pressing educational and social issues facing African-Americans. The series will also break down national data to dispel common myths and challenge conventional wisdom about education in Black America.


To begin the series, let's examine the attainment of four-year college degrees among Black males in the U.S. — the facts, not the myths. What is acceptable, and where will it stand at the end of the decade?


Editor's note: For all statistical analyses, unless otherwise noted, Toldson used the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), which consists of 66 high-precision samples of the U.S. population drawn from 16 federal censuses, and the American Community Surveys (ACS) of 2000-2010. Where the notation "(Ruggles, et al)" is given, the data come from Ruggles S., Alexander J.T., Genadek K., Goeken R., Schroeder M.B., Sobek M.; Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 (machine-readable database), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota; 2010.


Black Men in College: Is There a Crisis?


Recently, several news sources documented the abysmal underrepresentation of Black males in colleges and universities in the United States. Earlier this year, many people interested in Black male achievement forwarded online the Observer-Dispatch article from which the "dying breed" characterization came: "Report: 4 Percent of College Students Are Black Males." The article covers the laudable quest of Utica College to recruit more minority and low-income students.


In an apparent attempt to draw in readers, the article's title was derived from a 2010 Council of the Great City Schools report, which, according to the author, found that "only 4 percent of college students are Black males." The number given by the CGCS is actually 5 percent (pdf), as reported by Trip Gabriel of the New York Times. Nevertheless, the Times issued a correction for saying that it was "just 5 percent," which implies a deficit.


Here is why a correction was in order: IPUMS data show that today, the nation's 12.7 million Black men 18 years old and older make up 5.5 percent of the adult population in the U.S., and the 76.4 million white men in the same age range make up 32.7 percent. According to the 2010 census, 1.2 million Black male college students make up 5.5 percent of all college students, while the 5.6 million white male students make up 27 percent (or should we say "just" 27 percent?) (Ruggles, et al).


The Facts Are Bad Enough. Let's at Least Get Them Right


Black males are not underrepresented in colleges and universities (as for whether they're underrepresented among college graduates, we'll get to that shortly).


I am certain that this statement will be met with tremendous skepticism. Many news stories about Black men point to unemployment, high school dropout rates and incarceration, so in the face of such negative tidings, the idea that black male representation on college campuses is population-consistent will seem far-fetched to most.


Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., is a tenured associate professor at Howard University, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education. He can be contacted at


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Written by Ivory Toldson, Ph.D., Journal of Negro Education


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