Diversity and Democracy

The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color

If the United States is to thrive as a country, educators and communities must work together to develop the full potential of America's citizens. Despite the fact that the United States is losing ground in international comparisons of postsecondary attainment, particularly among the younger segment of the population and with respect to communities of color (College Board 2010), recent enrollment data provide hope. According to the Pew Research Center, fall 2008 had the greatest growth in first-time postsecondary enrollment in four decades. Students of color led the enrollment boom, with a 15 percent increase for Hispanics, followed by increases of 8 percent for African Americans, 6 percent for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and 2 percent for Native Americans (Fry 2010). These statistics are promising, but with minority males lagging behind their female peers in college completion rates (see fig. 1), they are not enough to close the gaps (College Board 2010). Minority men have vast untapped potential that could help support the United States' social and economic development--but only if higher education institutions commit to connecting with and retaining these men.

Far-reaching policies and action can make a difference. In fact, improving the outlook for communities of color will be essential to securing the future of the United States. The fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population are emerging communities of color--the same groups that currently have the lowest levels of educational attainment. The U.S. Census projects that racial and ethnic minorities will represent more than half of all children in the United States by 2023, and that the U.S. population will be 54 percent minority by 2050 (College Board 2010). Youth from these communities need full preparation for and access to higher education. It would be both immoral and impractical to ignore the disparities facing these young people, as a brighter future for them means a brighter future for all.

Figure 1: Proportion of Men and Women, 25-29, 
with an Associate's Degree or Higher, 2006

Figure 1

Conversations about the Educational Crisis

In the 2007 edition of its annual publication The State of Black America, the National Urban League investigated challenges and highlighted critical issues facing African American men. The publication inspired the College Board to prioritize increasing the visibility of contemporary educational issues facing not only African American men, but all young men of color. To this end, in 2008 the College Board organized a series of conversations called Dialogue Days. The Dialogue Days convened researchers, activists, and practitioners to discuss concerns about challenges facing young men from four groups: African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The College Board's recent report The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color draws from these conversations to call attention to current challenges and provide a hopeful perspective on how the nation might make real progress in addressing the circumstances that underlie these disparities.

The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color draws from existing research to amplify the voices of those from the affected communities. The report found that "across the board, young men were not persisting in school or achieving at the same level as young women" (College Board 2010). While it is clearly important for young women to continue achieving at high levels, men's absence on campus and their resulting lack of preparation for the workforce create new dilemmas. The report therefore highlights the fact that many men, especially men of color, are being left behind, and a collaborative effort is needed to improve their condition.

Communities at Risk

Men in each of the four groups face problematic conditions. Although these conditions are not monolithic, research on African American men has often served as a springboard for discussions about other "at risk" communities. Until recently, only limited information on Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American men has been available. Scholarly interest is rapidly growing, and with appropriate funding, new research will yield specific strategies to strengthen each community. The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color represents one attempt to understand the different circumstances that affect each group's progress.

While recognizing that great variation exists within as well as between groups, participants in each Dialogue Days cohort underscored some of the circumstances affecting each group. For example, participants in the African American Dialogue Day highlighted the importance of mentorship for African American males and expressed frustration that young African American men's concerns about image may prevent them from actively seeking mentorship. In the Native American Dialogue Day, participants suggested that circumstances in remote rural schools might negatively affect Native American males (College Board 2010). Rural communities often suffer from a lack of access to working computers, libraries, and transportation services. Native American students in particular are often isolated and must travel long distances to participate in information sessions, overnight programs, entrance exam testing, and other events hosted by urban institutions.

In both the Hispanic and Asian American and Pacific Islander dialogue groups, participants pointed out that students face challenges related to limited English proficiency. Language barriers affect student performance, since students who are not entirely fluent in English are often unable to fully engage in activities that place them on the path to higher education. The language barrier is one obstacle that students who persevere tend to conquer.

Students in the Asian American community also face unique barriers related to the stereotype of the "model minority." As a whole, the Asian American community is quite successful, but reality is much more complex than the myth of the "model minority" suggests. Within the Asian American community, men from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands have performance profiles similar to those of less successful minority groups. More research is needed to identify strategies to help Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Samoan, and other underserved communities that fall under the Asian umbrella. Additional resources should be focused on these lowest-performing subgroups.

Among the many challenges facing different communities, a few in particular stand out as affecting young men across groups. For example, the overrepresentation of minority men among those held back in or suspended from school is a significant component in young men's lack of academic success (Fenning and Rose 2007). These two factors affect school readiness and contribute to the often-cited "pipeline to prison" for African American boys in particular (Rashid 2009). While African American men compose about 7 percent of the overall U.S. population, they constitute over 40 percent of the prison population. Similarly, Hispanic men compose about 8 percent of the U.S. population but make up 20 percent of the prison population (U.S. Census Bureau 2010; Bureau of Justice Statistics 2009). As the vast majority of inmates are poorly educated, it stands to reason that education could be one tool to reverse this trend. The United States needs to build more schools instead of more prisons.

Another important factor is the "overemphasis on special education as a solution for boys acting out" (College Board 2010). Instead of addressing behavioral issues, schools are inclined to place a disproportionate number of male students of color in special education programs (Davis and Polite 1994). This pattern is evident early in students' educational experiences: sixteen percent of males receive special education in at least one grade, compared with only 8 percent of females in primary grades K through 3 (National Center for Education Statistics 2007). Poverty, lack of parental involvement, and poor study habits are other factors contributing to lower academic achievement for minority men.

Models of Success

The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color highlights the importance of collaboration by various stakeholders: foundations, government agencies, K-12 and higher education institutions, and community-based organizations. Working together, these entities can advocate for policies that support the success of young men of color and secure resources to design and implement promising models. The report confirms the value of services like mentoring, partnerships, male role modeling, and (when carefully implemented) single-gender schooling (College Board 2010).

Mentoring is central to keeping young men engaged and involved, and several examples provide guidance in this area. At Sweetwater Union High School in San Diego, educators have created a template for African American student-parent conferences that allow community leaders to mentor and empower students, engaging a diverse array of stakeholders in students' success (Del Rio 2010). Peer mentorship can also be effective: at Northern Arizona University, the Native American Peer Mentorship program has improved retention by focusing on the unique needs of Native American students (Doctor 2010). Mentoring programs like Call Me MISTER (www.clemson.edu/hehd/departments/education/research-service/callmemister) and the Harlem Children's Zone (www.hcz.org) have also provided important comprehensive support services.

Partnerships between schools and communities are indispensable. For example, Lufkin High School in East Texas has developed a program to help male Hispanic students prepare for Advanced Placement courses. In addition, the school supports young Hispanic men as they prepare for college by building students' academic skills and encouraging them to consider college as a viable option. These programs allow families to become partners in helping young Hispanic men enroll and succeed in higher education--for example, by engaging parents and students in financial planning (Jackson and Stewart 2010). The collaborative approach provides incentive for the young men to become academically prepared and familiarizes participants with what can be an overwhelming college admission process.

Single-gender secondary institutions like Urban Prep (www.urbanprep.org) and leadership development programs like Kenwood Academy Brotherhood (www.kenwoodbrotherhood.org) serve the needs of minority men by providing role models, a support system, and a curriculum to help students achieve academically and move on to higher education. Successful college-level intervention programs that use role modeling as a strategy include the Minority Male Initiatives at Maricopa Community College and Houston Community College (Maricopa Community College 2010; Houston Community College 2010).

Moving Beyond Research

Major challenges and opportunities exist in the call to create innovative supports that improve young men's educational performance. America's youth are experiencing intense pressure to succeed, but they are not receiving the academic and social supports they need to thrive. The education system must give young people multiple opportunities to fulfill their potential in college, work, and life. Early and sustained engagement in a continuum of meaningful educational opportunities helps instill belief in the value of education, work, and lifelong learning. Access to these opportunities is essential to the ultimate success of youth who would otherwise be in danger of permanent disfranchisement.

With a genuine and sustained public and political will for change, the nation can create a campaign that supports world-class educational experiences for millions of young men of color. Only with dedication and long-term commitment can educators and policy makers begin to dismantle the barriers that prevent millions of men from contributing to the country's economic and social good and from achieving their own personal and professional goals and aspirations.

Dialogue Days participants eloquently and powerfully expressed the challenges facing young men of color. Yet the conversations' tones were hopeful. If this hopefulness is the preeminent message readers take from the report, it will have served its purpose. For if the United States is to achieve President Obama's goal of producing eight million additional college graduates by 2020, educators must move forward with clear purpose and with all due speed.

To download The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color, visit www.collegeboard.com.


Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2009. Prison inmates at midyear 2008: Statistical tables. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

College Board. 2010. The educational crisis facing young men of color. New York: College Board.

Davis, J. E., and V. C. Polite, eds. 1994. Pedagogical and contextual issues affecting African American males in school and society. Journal of Negro Education 63.

Del Rio, R. 2010. African American student-parent conferences. Model presented at the College Board's annual A Dream Deferred conference, Atlanta.

Doctor, S. 2010. Native American peer mentorship. Model presented at the College Board's annual Native American Student Advocacy Institute, Albuquerque, NM.

Fenning, P., and J. Rose. 2007. Overrepresentation of African American students in exclusionary discipline: The role of school policy. Urban Education 42 (6): 536-59.

Fry, R. 2010. Minorities and the recession-era college enrollment boom. Washington, DC: The Pew Research Center.

Houston Community College. 2010. www.hccs.edu.

Jackson, A., and A. Stewart. 2010. Identifying gifted Hispanic male students and preparing them for college success. Model presented at the College Board's annual Preparate conference, San Diego, CA.

Maricopa Community Colleges. 2010. Minority male initiative.www.maricopa.edu/studentaffairs/minoritymales.

National Center for Education Statistics. 2007. Timing and duration of student participation in special education in the primary grades. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Rashid, H. M. 2009. From brilliant baby to child placed at risk: The perilous path of African American boys in early childhood Education. Journal of Negro Education 78 (3): 347-58.

U. S. Census Bureau. 2010. Table 3: Annual estimates of the resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/NC-EST2009-srh.html.

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