Next week, Thomas R. Proctor High School senior Julius Blackshear will visit several colleges during winter break.
By the end of the week, he will have a better idea of which college he might attend in the fall.
Blackshear’s winter-break activity represents that of many high school seniors, but he’s somewhat of an anomaly among black males, according to a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools that found only 4 percent of college students are black males.
The report focuses on six key areas affecting black males, including achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, college and career readiness, and school experiences.
Blackshear, 17, believes he’s been able to buck the trend thanks to his role models — his father and Rich Davis, president of the Mohawk Valley chapter of the Junior Frontiers.
He said college always was an expectation that not all of his peers had.
“Some don’t have the right direction or the right parents to lead them to that path,” Blackshear said. “They have to be independent and try to figure it out on their own. Certain boys will be able to and others will fall into the trap with others and not go anywhere.”
The report’s findings aren’t new, said Davis, whose Junior Frontiers focuses on providing academic and civic opportunities to young black men and women. The college tour Blackshear will participate in is one of the projects of the Frontiers.
“It’s always been an issue, but people are starting to recognize the issue,” Davis said.
In fact, when the Junior Frontiers began the college tour program in 2003, it was spurred by colleges in Mississippi that noticed a shortage of black men on their campuses, Davis said.
Local colleges also recognize the shortage, and while most are not specifically targeting this group, they all say they are actively seeking to diversify their campuses with students who meet their standards.
Utica College, for example, focuses its recruitment efforts in metropolitan areas where often they attract prospective students who are minorities and in a lower socio-economic class. The college also offers bus trips to the campus, financial-assistance programs and involvement with such programs as Young Scholars, Higher Education Opportunity Program and C-Step – programs designed specifically to target financially underprivileged and minority students.
Those efforts have helped to make Utica College diverse, with an almost 5 percent population of black males and an ever-growing Latino population, said Patrick Quinn, vice president for enrollment management.
Hamilton College offers similar programs but stresses that a diverse student group on its campus isn’t solely focused on race, said Monica Inzer, dean of admission and financial aid.
Twenty percent of Hamilton students come from under-represented ethnicities, she said. Five percent are international and 13 percent are the first to go to college in their families, she said. Four percent are black, but a specific number for black males was not available.
“At Hamilton, because we’re such a small population, we care about diversity in the broadest sense,” she said. “We define diversity more globally than that as we care about socio-economic diversity and geographic diversity. I care about students whose parents didn’t go to college.”
Utica and Hamilton College said having a diverse student body also means meeting students’ financial needs. Hamilton, for example, uses a need-blind admission process where the most qualified students are admitted regardless of the family’s financial needs.
Such programs are helpful in attracting black males to campuses, especially since “one out of every three black children lived in poverty compared with one out of every 10 white children,” according to the City Schools report.
Is it enough?
But these programs aren’t enough, say community leaders. Early intervention and more male role models are needed, Davis said.
“The reality is the African-American males are a dying breed and going to jail, and going to jail is almost a death sentence,” he said. “As more and more black males drop out of school, they drop into prison. By the time the prisons get finished with them they are worthless.”
Mohawk Valley Community College saw such a need among black males and former inmates that the school instituted a program specifically to support inmates who return to college. It also has hosted retreats and workshops for men of color. Nearly 4 percent of MVCC college students in fall 2011 were black males.
Patrick Johnson, the college’s community civility liaison, is responsible for supporting these groups on campus. But without black male role models in schools, homes and in communities, it will be difficult to increase this group’s presence on college campuses, he said.
“These young black males need positive black male role models not only at home but a place that they frequent which is in school,” Johnson said. “If that is a very limited experience, it creates an easy pipeline from public schools to prison.”
In New York state, 50.5 percent of prisoners are black males, according to a 2011 report of the State of New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
These statistics show why black men aren’t in college, Johnson said.
“We have not done well at promoting black leadership and having them represented in the community, so there’s a deficiency there and the whole community pays for that.”