Contrary to popular belief, there are more Black men matriculating in U.S. colleges and universities than there are being warehoused in U.S. jails and prisons.  In fact, according to a 2011 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation report, 45% of Black men over the age of 25 have attended college. Unfortunately, the rate at which these men go on to graduate from college is dismal. Only 16% earned four-year degrees 

Millions of Black men across the country began college this fall.  The degree aspirations of many of these men, however, are statistically likely to meet the same fate as the proverbial raisin in the sun.  We do not have to stand by and watch this dangerous trend spiral out of control. There are five key factors that, if addressed, can shift this dangerous trend.

1) All public high schools must make the minimum necessities for college entrance and success readily available. High schools that educate Black students often fail to offer college preparatory tracks, advance placement coursework, robust college counseling or seasoned educators.  We must demand that our public schools offer the basic courses for college enrollment and success.  Exposure to college and its benefits must begin in elementary school, particularly with Black boys.  Additionally, we must demand that our schools employ seasoned educators and provide a technology-based education. 

2) Colleges and universities must make creative environmental enhancements to support the matriculation needs of all students. High levels of institutional support, close contact with faculty mentors and campus activity involvement all positively impact success rates for Black male collegians.  Some colleges have created programs that address these underlying student needs.  Ohio State’s National Resource Center, Georgia Board of Regents's African American Male Initiative, the Student African American Brotherhood (over 200 nationwide chapters) and the Initiative for Higher Education Policy are just a few organizations and university based programs directly addressing the unique matriculation needs of Black men.  These and other successful programs incorporate one-on-one mentoring, group meetings and workshops on personal development, leadership and professional development.  Each of these organizations has demonstrated significant improvements in Black male graduation rates at their affiliated institutions and many more institutions should follow suit. 

3) Educators must identify and filter out their preconceived notions and expectations of Black boys. Institutionalized racism has created inferior perceptions and expectations for Black men and boys.  The Rosental Effect is a well-documented socio-psychological theory that proves how expectations impact performance and success across most all domains.  The insidiousness of institutionalized racism makes it such that even Blacks adopt lowered expectations for their sons, brothers and nephews.  Youth tend to subconsciously live up or down to the expectations set for them.  When monolithic images of Black men and boys saturate our experiences, we begin to believe the hype.  We must train parents and educators at all levels to identify the personal and professional factors that impact expectations and provide coaching to teachers on mindfulness practicesprivilege and the dangers of low expectations.

4) We must increase Black male access to top-tier universities.  The dollars spent on students during their college matriculation directly correlates with improved graduation rates, increased access to graduate school and better economic outcomes in the job market.  Top colleges and universities spend two-to-five times more money per student than less competitive schools.  A study of 4,400 institutions of higher education found huge disparities in enrollment demographics based on university type. White students were largely concentrated in the nations 468 most selective and well-funded US colleges and universities while Black students found themselves disproportionately concentrated in more open access schools with lower funding.  Black enrollment in top-tier universities has increased since the 1990’s but that only tells half the story.  Between 1995 and 2009 more than 80% of new White college students enrolled in one of the top 468 US colleges and universities.  During this same period more than seven out of 10 Black and Latino students went to the less competitive ‘open-access’, two and four year colleges.  We must increase access to the nations top tier universities for Black men if we want to avoid the separate but unequal fate that has befallen the nations K-12 education resulting in an academic and economic under class.

5) Colleges, universities and the US Department of Education must increase access to affordable tuition options and improve student loan options. Educational costs are sky-rocketing and most families aren’t able to independently finance a full four-year education.  Many families have challenges justifying the accrual of tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, particularly low-income families.  Increased availability of student loan forgiveness programs can curtail portions of educational costs for most all universities depending on the work setting chosen by the graduate.  This does, however, require that matriculation costs be covered on the front end and that graduates spend a minimum number of years in a particular career role.  Several Ivy League universities have made fully paid slots available to qualified students from low-income families.

If we choose to ignore these staggering statistics and these strategic steps, we choose to defer the dreams of millions of Black boys across America. When Black men are unable to realize their potential, the Black community and America herself will continue to suffer. Now that you know, what will you do? 

Dr. Donald E. Grant, Jr.  is a professional psychologist and the Executive Director of Mindful Training Solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @DrGrantJr