A Role for Policymakers in Improving the Status of Black Male Students in U.S. Higher Education

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By Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D. and Frank Harris III, Ed.D., formerly of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education

Two-thirds of Black male students who start at public colleges and universities do not graduate within six years, which is the lowest college completion rate among both sexes and all racial groups in U.S. higher education. Researchers in the past decade have called attention to these high attrition rates and other troubling trends concerning this population. In an effort to combat these trends, educators and administrators at all levels have employed numerous strategies to improve Black men’s pathways to and through postsecondary education. This report calls for greater involvement by federal and state policymakers, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (the policymaking organization for intercollegiate athletics), in ongoing efforts to improve the status of Black undergraduate men. In support of this goal, this report presents policy-relevant data from the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice, NCAA Federal Graduation Rates Database, and other sources to paint a statistical portrait of Black male students in postsecondary contexts. Also included is a summary of selected efforts on college campuses across the country. Argued throughout the document is that well-intentioned institutional activities, on their own, will not substantively improve the condition of Black male collegians. Thus, the report concludes with recommendations for policymakers.

This report was produced in collaboration with the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to promoting access to and success in higher education for all students. Based in Washington, DC, IHEP develops innovative policy- and practice-oriented research to guide policymakers and education leaders, who develop high-impact policies that will address our nation’s most pressing education challenges.