Recent studies concerning black student graduation rates have alarms ringing across the education sector.
In 83 federally designated four-year historically black colleges and universities, only 37 percent of students receive a degree within six years, according to a recent Associated Press study.
This is in comparison to a national overall six-year college graduation rate of 56 percent.
Another alarming statistic: only 29 percent of black males at HBCUs complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.
This statistic raises questions about the viability of HBCUs in America today.
The most recent data at the University of North Carolina’s Web site reports that the graduation rate in 2007 for all N.C. Central University students — males and females — was 49 percent.
Females at NCCU graduated at a rate of 56 percent in six years, while males graduated at a rate of 34 percent.
At N.C. A&T, an HBCU in Greensboro, the overall six-year graduation rate in 2007 was 48 percent, with a male graduation rate similar to NCCU’s, at 35 percent.
Elizabeth City State University, which has made an effort to identify struggling students, has a six-year male graduation rate that is 11 percent higher than NCCU’s.
Meanwhile, the graduation rate for black students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is 76 percent.
The low graduation rate for black males has some students wondering: What’s the problem?
“One must understand the outside causes which hinder black men before they even reach college, if they ever do,” said Monet Phillips, a history senior.
This sentiment is shared by others at NCCU.
“I don’t think it has to do with the college experience,” said Jonah Vincent, a jazz studies senior.
“It has everything to do with before you got here. How prepared were you?”
Vincent enrolled at NCCU in 2004 and will be graduating in May.
He said black male graduation rates have more to do with a negative home and neighborhood environment than the culture on an HBCU campus.
“The drop-out rate among high school students,” said Phillips,“is higher among males than females.”
Vincent said that the “root” of the problem needs to be addressed.
“The public education system is a failure,” he said.
“Public schools should make it easier to learn.
“Black men are more than capable. It all starts earlier than college.”
Phillips said HBCUs can increase graduation rates by reaching out with mentors to black middle grade students and instilling the importance of education in them early.
“The program should be designed to not only mentor and tutor,” said Phillips, “but to also expose them to the HBCU experience.
“Show the intellectual as well as the leisure side of college.”
According to an Associated Press analysis, some HBCUs — Howard University, for example — has graduation rates that exceed the national averages for both black and white students.
Howard has a combined male and female graduation rate of 60 percent.
Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale universities have lower black enrollment rates than HBCUs, but top the list of graduation rates for blacks, with 96 percent and 94 percent, respectively.
At some HBCUs, the black male graduation rate is so abysmal that these schools bring down the national average male graduation rates at all HBCUs to 29 percent.
Texas Southern, Miles College in Alabama, and Edward Waters in Florida, for example, have six-year male graduation rates under 10 percent.
Besides identifying struggling students and making all resources available to them, Elizabeth City State University brings its faculty in to help retain and graduate black males.
That university asks its best professors teach introductory and developmental courses.
It convenes mandatory sessions to help students apply for financial aid correctly.
When a student drops out, the university follows up with a call to find out what the problem was, and tries to convince the student to return to school.
At Howard University, regular reports are prepared concerning male retention and graduation rates.
NCCU’s Dean of University College, Bernice Johnson, said the University recognizes the severity of its retention problem, and is working on initiatives to begin next fall.
Johnson said the University plans to create learning communities across the campus, one of which will focus on African-American freshman males.
“My philosophy is that students can do the work,” said Johnson.
“Our job is to connect what we have to what the student needs, early on.”