Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Signing day exposes problems with black male students

Three of the student athletes, who signed letters of intent to attend Division I schools from the 2010 Hillside High School state championship team, are playing at junior colleges.  Six are playing at Division I schools, while four others are enrolled in school, but not on a team.

Only two of the 16 who signed a letter of intent aren’t enrolled in school.  Of the 24 seniors from the team, 19 attended college, and only one failed to graduate. The promise of that signing day in 2011 is tainted by the disappointment related to all 16 not remaining connected to the school they vowed to attend; however, this story is not over.

Some may wonder why it matters.  Is it reasonable to track the progress of young men who made their mark by playing a game? Are these setbacks due to more than what shows up on the roster of a team?  What is the real story behind what happened to 16 young men who made us proud after signing letter of intents to play for Division I schools?

It matters because of what continues to haunt black men in higher education.  The story of the Hillside football team is no different than what takes place in black families from coast to coast.  An examination of other schools within the Durham Public School system will reflect numbers comparable to Hillside’s championship team.  The class of black male students that shows up on campus each year drops significantly each semester.  Sometimes it’s due to academic problems.  Sometimes it’s because of financial problems.  Sometimes it’s a lack of interest.

What sets the Hillside football team apart from the rest is the promise of a free education.  The gift of a four year free ride minimizes dropouts among students.  Black males who fail to return, for reasons other than finances, normally do so for two reasons: poor academics or disciplinary issues.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, young black men are not attending, or graduating from, college at the same rate as black women. Although the absence of black men is more apparent at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, black male students are scarce at colleges everywhere.

The national college graduation rate for black men is 33.1 percent compared with 44.8 percent for black women. Black men represent 7.9 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in America but only 2.8 percent of undergraduates at public universities.

This education gap virtually ensures that black men will continue to have less earning power than their white counterparts and be underrepresented across a broad spectrum of high-paying professions.

Failure to obtain a college education leads to limited job opportunities, reduced earning potential, and stunted career advancement.  Those who fail to graduate face long-term economic and social implications. Without solid incomes and steady jobs, their ability to marry and support their families is hindered.  They struggle to secure credit to purchase a home or start a business. 

The report from the U.S. Department of education found that black male enrollment at Howard University declined from 3,070 during the 1994-95 academic year to 2,499 during 2009-10, while female enrollment declined by only 52 students, from 4,958 to 4,906.

While half of Howard students graduate within six years, most HBCU’s do not. Graduation rates at HBCUs are lower than the graduation rates of blacks students at white universities. At 20 HBCUs, two-thirds or more of all entering black students do not earn a diploma, and most are men.

A two year report released by the College Board in 2011 found that black and Latino men are measurable less educated than minority women and white men.  According to the report, 16 percent of Latino and 28 percent of black men age 28-34 had obtained an associate’s degree or higher as of 2008, while the comparable figure for white men was 44 percent and 70 percent for Asian men.

The report shares firsthand stories from minority men. One black student, who was enrolled as a freshman in a public university, shared disillusionment with the process.  “He remembers that all through school people told him to get good grades so he could succeed and go to college,” the author writes. “But senior year he realized it was all about money and affordability.”

Money is cited as the biggest setback in gaining an education. 16 student-athletes from Hillside High School obtained a free ride. It matters because it’s a ticket to breaking a disheartening trend among black men.  They can’t use as an excuse a lack of money to attend and graduate from college.

Each of them has an opportunity to get a head start toward building a life for themselves and their families.  We owe it to them to prepare them for what’s ahead.  They owe it to us to fulfill the promise that comes with signing on that dotted line.

No, it’s not the glory of playing football that matters.  It’s more about shifting a trend and, in the process, transforming the image related to black men.

That’s why it matters.

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