HBCUs are My Brother’s Keeper

By: Ivory A. Toldson, Deputy Director, The White House Initiative on HBCUs

One out of every 10 Black males who are enrolled in college attends an HBCU.  Research demonstrates that HBCU graduates enjoy greater financial success in their careers, and U.S. rankings consistently show that HBCUs are among the top producers of students who continue their educations through graduate and professional schools.  However, a myriad of social factors, as revealed in the Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study, disrupt the best efforts to recruit, retain and graduate Black male college students.

Systemic inequities and racial biases within schools systems are contributing to Black males being overrepresented in the colleges with open admissions standards, including community colleges and for-profit colleges, and underrepresented at colleges and universities with selective admissions standards, including many HBCUs.  Black males currently comprise 39 percent of all HBCU students.  Today, of the 1.2 million Black males currently enrolled in college, more than 529,000 (43 percent) are attending community colleges, compared to only 11 percent who attend HBCUs.  Another 11 percent of Black males attend for-profit universities, such as the University of Phoenix, which as a single institution enrolls the largest number of Black males in the nation. 

The Pipeline from Secondary Education to HBCUs for Black Males

In the current educational environment, even our most gifted Black males with the most dedicated parents can leave high school underprepared.  Often, students with very low GPA, low ACT/SAT scores, and key math and science classes omitted, have difficulty gaining acceptance to traditional 4-year institutions.

Today, approximately 258,047 of the 4.1 million ninth graders in the United States are Black males.  Among them, about 23,000 are receiving special education services, and for nearly 46,000, a health care professional or school official has told them that they have at least one disability.  If Black male ninth graders follow current trends, about half of them will not graduate with their current ninth grade class, about 20 percent will reach the age of 25 without obtaining a high school diploma or GED, 45 percent of Black males will attempt college, however only 16 percent obtain a bachelor’s degree by the age of 25.

In 2012, the Department of Education released the Civil Rights Data Collection (pdf) report. The study suggests that opportunity gaps that exist between Black and White males across the country center around three key areas: (1) Schools routinely offer Black children a less rigorous curriculum that omit classes required for college admission; (2) Schools discipline Black males more harshly by suspending them for behaviors (e.g. tardiness) that rarely result in suspensions among White males; and (3) Black students are the most likely to have the lowest paid teachers with the fewest years of classroom experience, and who become teachers through alternative teacher certification programs.

Recent evidence suggests that most Black males persist through high school and aspire to attend college at rates that exceed White and Hispanic males.  In a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 87 percent of Black students who were in the 9th grade in 2009 were in the 11th grade by 2012. In addition, Black students were more likely to advance ahead than fall behind or drop out.  About 64 percent of Black high school males expect to eventually graduate from college.  However, Black students are behind their peers in the percent who are taking college preparatory classes.  Fifty-three percent of Asian students, 24 percent of White students, 16 percent of Hispanic students, and 12 percent of Black students are taking pre-calculus or calculus by the 11th grade.

HBCUs and My Brother’s Keeper

HBCUs have the potential to play a major role in expanding college access to school-age Black males.  However, HBCUs need coordinated and proactive strategies to disrupt a system that underprepares Black males for postsecondary education and restricts their higher education options to the least competitive institutions of higher education. HBCU leaders should be active in crafting policy solutions for HBCUs to resolve inequities in U.S. public schools that impede academic progress of school-age Black males.  HBCU students can change the public perception that school-age Black males are disaffected and incapable of adapting to the educational system.  HBCU academic affairs administrators can promote a pathway through AP classes that can help Black males transition from public schools to colleges and universities. Through teacher education programs and trainings, HBCUs can examine the impact of teacher preparation on the academic achievement of Black males and aid in breaking the discipline gap barrier in our nation’s schools.

In February 2014, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper – a new initiative to help every boy and young man of color break barriers and get ahead.  The initiative surveys and builds on the work of communities and institutions that are adopting approaches to promote success among males of color.  Many HBCUs have initiatives that can contribute to the national agenda to help Black males to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities and build successful lives for themselves and their families.

The White House Initiative on HBCUs (WHIHBCUs) will work with the HBCU community and the Interagency Task Force that will oversee My Brother’s Keeper to do the following:

  • Use research and programs published by HBCU scholars to recommend Federal policies, regulations, and programs that would benefit boys and young men of color and innovative strategies and practices for providing opportunities to and improving lives for Black males.
  • Survey HBCU male initiatives to contribute to the administration-wide “What Works” online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.
  • Confer with HBCU researchers and administrators to recommend critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color for a comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education.
  • Connect HBCU administrators and scholars to the philanthropic and corporate partners of My Brother’s Keeper so that they can learn how to access the revenue necessary to start and sustain programs for boys and young men of color.

To achieve these objectives, in February 2014, the WHIHBCUs began a series of sessions to bring together students, educators, policymakers and other interested in the advancement of Black males to discuss key policies and strategies for increasing their college preparation, recruitment, retention and graduation.  The goal is to promote the academic success of Black males at HBCUs through leadership, scholarship and civic engagement.  The first session was in Charlotte, NC, with additional sessions planned for Little Rock, Philadelphia, Memphis, and New Orleans.  In addition, the WHIHBCU student ambassadors (aka HBCU All-Stars) have participated in conferences calls with the Administration to instruct them on how to facilitate our priorities to uplift boys and young men of color, on a grassroots level.

The WHIHBCUs look forward to working with HBCUs students, faculty and staff, as well as HBCU advocacy groups and the media to demonstrate that HBCUs are “My Brother’s Keeper.”


    • There will be multiple opportunities for dialogue. Stay tuned for the release of forum locations, dates and times.

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