PVAMU takes the lead in Texas in graduating Black Men
The numbers are staggeringly low: Only one college in Texas graduated more than 100 African-American men in 2016.
It’s a grim statistic that punctuates glaring disparities across their educational journey.
Black males are more likely to get disciplined more harshly than their peers even as early as prekindergarten. They’re less likely to get tapped for talented and gifted programs that put them on track for college readiness and more likely to be placed in special education classes.
These inequities put them further behind than their peers, making it harder to earn a degree.
In 2016, Prairie View A&M University graduated 168 black men within six years of their start as freshmen, according to the most recent federal data available.
The numbers drop off quickly. At Texas A&M University, which was among the top schools graduating such students, 83 black men earned their bachelor’s in that time period compared to 2,271 white men and 523 Hispanic men at that College Station campus.
Experts say the low numbers represent a convergence of the many challenges the young men face in education, including low expectations, a lack of black educators, limited opportunities and inadequate preparation in high schools.
Growing up in Fort Worth, Xavier Rice didn’t know many – if any – black men with advanced degrees. And he rarely had a black teacher.
Rice passed up “full-ride” offers to some of the state’s premier universities for the more intimate setting of Prairie View A&M University. He saw himself reflected in the students and staff across the school that’s one of the state’s HBCUs, a historically black college or university.
As a freshmen, Rice was paired with an upperclassman who was also set on a career in health.
“I was grateful for that mentor,” said Rice, 22. “He constantly was there to continually uplift me and remind me I was there for a purpose: to go to medical school. It had the biggest impact on me making me believe it was possible.”
This year he not only earned his bachelor’s, but Rice also enrolled at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston where he was elected president of his class. His mentor from Prairie View A&M goes to school there, too, and the two continue to push each other toward their goals: Rice wants to be an anesthesiologist.
But Texas doesn’t have enough students like Rice who are finishing college.
Texas graduation rates have steadily risen for Hispanic, Asian and white students since 1996. But they’ve remained relatively flat for African-Americans at 35 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The federal graduation data only accounts for those freshmen who start and finish college at the same school. It doesn’t account for transfers and those who enter universities with a significant amount of college credit earned in high school.
Still, it’s the most consistently reported data available giving a snapshot of disparities that remain.
Setting higher expectations
A key challenge is getting students past the low expectations set for them – either intentionally or unintentionally.
Many families are “loving” their boys, letting things slide perhaps too much at times, said Jerel Booker, assistant commissioner at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. But society is “parenting” our girls, making them work harder and setting higher standards.
“It’s not that men are necessarily doing terrible,” he said. “It’s that women are doing so much more and faster, so that gap is really starting to increase.”
The overall gender gap for bachelor’s degrees in Texas has been steady since 2001, according to the federal data. In 2016, women earned about 35 percent more bachelor’s degrees than men.
Only about a quarter of Texas teachers are men, and about 10 percent of educators are African-American. That’s an important dynamic that impacts the classroom, Booker said.
He pointed to the Rio Grande Valley, where teachers are mostly Latino and Hispanic students living in poverty are outperforming their peers in larger districts who are also from low income families.
“That’s because people in the Valley see themselves in those kids, so the expectations are super high,” Booker said. “I have a doctorate; you can get a doctorate. I grew up here; you grew up here.”
Many high school youths that do go on to college are those graduating at the top of their class, taking advantage of Texas’ ’10 percent rule,’ which grants them automatic admission to every state school.
But those students who come from rural or more urban districts, where African-American students are more likely to enroll, aren’t always as prepared as those from richer suburban areas of the state that have more resources to prepare them for college.
“So now you’ve had to ask for help and you’ve never had to before,” Booker said. “That’s particularly an issue for students who have never learned how to advocate for themselves.”
To make such help more accessible, the higher ed coordinating board launched the Minority Male Initiative, which has awarded more than $1.4 million in grants to Texas schools to offer targeted coaching efforts, academic advising, expanded community programs and more.
Building a community
Rice felt lost at big universities when he visited them while shopping for a school.
He decided on Prairie View A&M when he saw how accessible the school was. Within his first hour there, he’d already met the university’s president.
It was easy to develop close relationships with students and staff. Over the years, one professor, in particular, kept encouraging him and even paid for him to visit every medical school in Texas and a few across the country.
“At HBCUs, African-Americans get a tailored experience when it comes to learning more about what a black professional is,” he said. Prairie View A&M “prepares us for a world that is not predominantly African-American.”
Creating such intimacy at much larger universities can be difficult, but it’s a goal at the University of Texas at Austin.
Only 5 percent of the Austin campus’ undergraduate students are black. It’s not uncommon for many to feel isolated, said Darren Kelly, deputy to the vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement at UT.
So the school started the African American Male Research Initiative, which pairs undergraduates with graduate students and faculty through weekly informal gatherings. They discuss how to use resources that help them resources like tutoring or even student organization that will make college life more manageable.
“Our goal and our intention is to fight those feelings of isolation,” Kelly said. “We want to build a community to where even if you are going to a class where you are one of a few or even the only African-American male, you don’t feel alone.”
The initiative also sponsors mentoring younger black men in Austin public schools to get them on a college path and organizes study abroad trips to Beijing and Cape Town, South Africa.
UT also hosts a retreat for black men who attend college each year that students from across the country attend to discuss wide-ranging topics.
These and other efforts have edged up the university’s four-year graduation rate in recent years, Kelly said.
Since 2012, UT’s overall four-year graduation rate has increased from 52 percent to almost 70 percent, according to university figures. Black students saw their rates increase from about 37 percent to 58 percent.
“We see the statistics. We see the data. We see what’s in the media in terms of how black males are portrayed, and it’s not in the most positive light — especially when it comes to access to education,” Kelly said. “Our goal is to help boost them up so that not only get here, but they stay here and they graduate.”
This story includes data from Tuition Tracker, a tool produced by The Hechinger Report, Education Writers Association and The Dallas Morning News for students and their families. TuitionTracker.org is a free tool that allows anyone to find out how much students in different income brackets pay at any U.S. college or university and compare graduation rates.