Fewer Black men are enrolling in community college. This state wants to change that

Even before the pandemic, higher education had an enrollment problem. The last few years have made it worse. That’s particularly true for community colleges, where enrollment dropped 13 percent since 2019. The number was 21 percent for Black men. As part of our Rethinking College series, Stephanie Sy reports on how some California programs are trying to reverse that trend.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Enrollment in higher education suffered across the board during the pandemic. Community colleges faced the sharpest declines overall. More than 700,000 students, many of them lower-income, dropped out or delayed school. That is a 13 percent drop from 2019.

    Black male students left in droves, down 21 percent. Even before the pandemic, there were concerns about Black men completing their degrees.

    Stephanie Sy reports on efforts in California to reverse that trend.

    It's part of our latest series on Rethinking College.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Every morning, Chris Adams is in the zone studying for the LSAT like his life depends on it. For the 34-year old recent UCLA graduate, law school wasn't always in the cards.

  • Chris Adams, UCLA Graduate:

    My parents moved a lot when I was young, so I went to different schools, and just being in different environments where they probably didn't understand where I came from or who I was.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    You were a child.

  • Chris Adams:

    Yes. I was looking for guidance, didn't really know how the academic settings would be, didn't really know what to expect, didn't have, like, good studying habits.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Adams' school trouble led to him being arrested at 16 and juvenile detention. He dropped out of high school and became a dad. His educational prospects dimmed.

  • Chris Adams:

    What's more important ,taking care of your family, paying the bills, or going to school?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    His local community college in Sacramento offered a gateway back into education. Everything changed when he met Edward Bush, the president of the college.

  • Edward Bush, Co-Founder, African American Male Educational Network:

    Every student has the potential to succeed in college, when given the correct support and tools necessary to be successful.

    So, with the situation with Chris, he had the passion, he had the intelligence to be successful, but was struggling just because he didn't have practical tools.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Chris Adams found a mentor in Bush.

  • Chris Adams:

    I want to do all these different things. And he listens and he just gives me a nice little plan on how to achieve that.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    He gives you a plan?

  • Chris Adams:

    He gives me a plan.

    Put in those hours. How many units it says that you are completing, that's how many hours you should be spending. If it's three units, spend three hours studying. I never thought about it like that.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    He graduated with honors from Cosumnes River College and transferred to UCLA.

  • Edward Bush:

    Black males are not the thing that need to be fixed. It's the structures in which they interface with that needs to be disrupted and changed.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Bush co-founded A2MEND in 2006, with a mission of fostering success for Black men at California's community colleges.

  • Edward Bush:

    We focus on not only providing support to the student, but I think, most importantly, we look at structures that have been barriers for our students.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Students and educators from across the state recently attended A2MEND's annual conference in Los Angeles.

  • Amanuel Gebru, Executive Director, African American Male Educational Network:

    If this is your first time here, I just want to tell you, this is a different kind of conference.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It was as much about networking and learning as it was a celebration.

  • Hill Harper, Activist:

    Oftentimes, people want to focus on, oh, the U.C. or the state system or these private schools or this or that.

    It's about community colleges.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Stephanie Sy:

    This year was the first in-person gathering since the pandemic, which took a disproportionate toll on communities of color.

    The racial inequities that were laid bare by the pandemic are also at play in education, says Bush.

  • Edward Bush:

    Many of our students can go entire K through 16 and not have one Black male teacher.

    And that's not the case for other ethnic or racial groups. And so because there's a lack of connection, they don't have the same information poured into them over a period of time. And so that creates a gap in opportunity and knowledge necessary to be successful.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Seventy percent of Black men in California pursuing higher education attend a community college, but degree attainment and completion lag behind other groups.

    A recent analysis by the Education Trust found about 27 percent of Black men held a college degree, compared to just over 44 percent of white men. That has impacts beyond the ivory tower of college. Higher levels of education often mean higher incomes, more spending power, and less likelihood of incarceration.

    Bush also explains the Black male achievement gap as rooted in historical discrimination and psychological.

  • Edward Bush:

    There's a lot of internalized negative stereotypes about who we are.

    For example, like, you get on the elevator and someone is in there and they clench their purse. Or you're walking down the street, someone will go on the other side. These are daily occurrences that sometimes we put in the back of our mind because the totality and the weight of it is difficult to carry.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    During the pandemic, community college enrollment suffered broadly. But Black men saw the steepest decline, continuing a downward trend that Compton College has put resources toward fighting.

    With most classes still taught virtually under pandemic protocols, the campus was largely empty. But college President Keith Curry is particularly concerned about the absence of Black men in enrollment figures and in other metrics of success.

  • Keith Curry, President, Compton College:

    My data is showing that the Black men are not doing well in retention within a particular course, they're not doing well in persistence, coming back next semester. They're not doing well in regards to graduation rates. We have to do something different.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Compton College is located just south of downtown Los Angeles. The area has seen the Black population decline in recent years.

    But Black male enrollment at the college has fallen even more. Enrollment of African-American men plummeted from 919 in the fall of 2019 to 269 in the fall of 2021.

  • Keith Curry:

    It might not affect all of our groups on campus, but the — particularly, the Black and male of color students are our priority based off the data. So, what can we do as an organization to fix that?

    That's the key to it, is just really being thoughtful for it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Using pandemic relief funding, he created the position of director of Black and males of color success at Compton College.

    Antonio Banks, Director of Black and Males of Color Success, Compton College: But, for these individuals, oftentimes, it was just one person at the campus saying, hey, I'm going to take you under my wing and show you this is where financial aid is, this is where orientation is, this is what you need to do to get this resource.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Antonio Banks' role is to develop a system to help Black male students navigate Compton College. With more than half of its students food- and housing-insecure and nearly a quarter experiencing homelessness, he also tries to find ways to help with stressors outside college.

  • Antonio Banks:

    One of the biggest prohibitive factors for Black men and men of color in community colleges have historically been food insecurity, right, housing insecurity and transportation issues.

    The market that we're in right now is only exacerbating these issues.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    High prices for everything,

  • Antonio Banks:

    High prices for everything.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Banks attended the A2MEND conference with Compton College students. Organizers hope the kind of mentorship opportunities at these events lead to more Black men in college reaching their full potential, the way connecting with Dr. Bush did for Chris Adams.

    When you look at your impact on his trajectory, what do you feel? Is it pride?

  • Edward Bush:

    It's, I mean, he has a 3.9 GPA, right? He is about to have his choice of law school. I really take credit for it, because it was already inside of Chris.

  • Chris Adams:

    It's really somebody validating what you have been doing and telling you, leading you in the right direction.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And he's now doing that for his own 15-year old son. Keith was recently accepted into a top high school that Chris hopes will put him on the track to college.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy in Los Angeles.

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