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By Paul Bradley
Community colleges must embrace sweeping and systemic change to close yawning, persistent achievement gaps between men of color and other student groups populating their campuses.
So concludes a special report released today by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), which urged colleges to resist tinkering at the edges of reform and instead bring successful strategies to scale so they help large numbers of students.
“That’s at the center of our work,” said CCSSE Director Kay McClenney. “It’s not about fixing students. It’s about changing institutions. The solutions that we now have in place are just not up to the magnitude of the problem.”
The report — titled “Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color in Community Colleges” — is the product of two years of survey and analysis. It documents a huge gap between the achievement of black and Hispanic men and other student groups: Only five percent of black and Hispanic men attending community colleges earn a degree or certificate within three years. In contrast, 32 percent of white men attending community colleges earn a credential in the same time span. Only 30 percent of African Americans and 20 percent of Latinos aged 25 to 34 had attained an associate degree or higher compared to 49 percent for white Americans and 71 percent for Asian Americans.
“Consistently and unmistakably, data show a persistent gap separating Latinos and black males from other student groups on measures of academic progress and college completion,” the report says. “These gaps exist across higher education. They are undeniable and unacceptable.”
The gaps persist despite the fact that black men are more engaged in their educations than are their white counterparts, defying a well-documented finding that deeper student engagement means better educational outcomes. Black male students are more likely to take part in high-impact practices like orientation, student success courses and learning communities. But that deeper engagement seems not to be making a difference in outcomes.
“For example,” the report says, “among black male students who report a C− GPA, 39 percent say they never skip class. Among Latino students with the same self-reported GPA, 31 percent say they never skip class, and among white students who report the same GPA, only 24 percent say they never skip class. The black men are more engaged, but getting the same outcome.”
Part of the gap can be attributed to differences in college readiness, the report said. Only 14 percent of black males and 30 percent of Latinos meet ACT college-readiness standards in math, while 53 percent of white men do. Those gaps can’t be overcome even if black male student is more deeply engaged in his studies.
“If you are so far behind at the starting line and you’ve not had access to the skills and experiences you need to succeed, you can work harder and faster and you’d still be behind,” McClenney said.
“Grappling with these disparities is a task for virtually every community college,” she added. “Campus conversations must address three factors: substantially different levels of college readiness, the demonstrated effects of stereotype threat on performance in higher education, and continuing impacts of structural racism evident in systems throughout American society.”
In the report’s foreword, Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, said the achievement gaps have important implications for the country.
“America needs a highly educated population to strengthen our place in the world market, grow our economy, and engage in our democracy,” he wrote. “But we cannot have an educated workforce and citizenry if our current reality persists. Today, White students are earning college degrees at substantially higher rates than are both Black students and Latino students.”
“These trends combine to create a significant achievement gap between men of color and other student groups. Given our nation’s changing demographics — groups traditionally classified as minorities are growing more quickly than the white population — his gap not only affects individuals and their families; it threatens our country’s ability to thrive.”
The report gives colleges several strategies, including
• Focus on practices which men of color themselves say are most important: fostering personal connections, setting high expectations and providing high-quality instructions from engaged faculty.
• Disaggregate data to monitor outcomes from different ethnic groups.
• Invest in systemic change that can bring so-called “boutique” programs to scale, such as intrusive advising and better academic support.
•Redesign developmental education to provide better results more quickly.
• Improve faculty and staff diversity as well as their cultural competence.
The report, along with an accompanying video, can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.cccse.org.