Closing the Gender Gap for Black Males at HBCUs

Last Updated on November 14, 2021

Black Male freshmen students listen to SU System President at Southern University and A&M College orientation.
SU System President meets with freshmen students. Photo courtesy of Southern University and A&M College.

In April 2014, at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities held a session with distinguished panelists to discuss HBCUs’ role in providing college access to Black males. Led by the Initiatives’ deputy director Ivory Toldson and keeping in line with President Barack Obama’s newly launched “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative, scholars and attendees worked through issues ranging from HBCUs’ need for increased public relations to making attempts to connect teacher education students with nearby secondary schools. Much of the conversation spoke to how HBCUs can play a role in changing the pipeline to college for Black males through partnerships and initiatives focusing on elementary and secondary education. However, access though important, may not be the only concerns HBCUs need to address around the issue of Black males. Alongside of increasing college access and readiness of Black males, how do we actually get Black men to HBCU campuses, in particular?

Based on data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, female undergraduates outnumber males at a slightly higher rate across institutional types. When looking at HBCUs in particular, Black women represent more than 60% of enrolled students. This would suggest that even though there is clearly an issue with Black males having access and being college ready, those that are, are not ending up on HBCU campuses in large enough numbers. Not to be mistaken, HBCUs are often shouldering the access work for Black males, particularly public HBCUs. However, with some HBCUs having male enrollments as low as 23%, HBCU campuses and leadership have to begin to address how to attract, enroll, and graduate more Black males. The following are a few recommendations for HBCUs and the White House Initiative on HBCUs to consider:

Curriculum/Programs and Major Offerings

HBCUs hoping to increase male enrollment should take a look at what majors are offered at their institutions. Matt Nelson and Phil Scotton (2014) speak to this idea in a chapter in a forthcoming book about the future of HBCUs. Majors that traditionally attract males should be explored as options to add to HBCU curricula. Fields that are generally dominated by males such as STEM majors and sports management are areas that, if bolstered, may lead to an increase in male applications and enrollment.

Collaboration with Advocates for Black Males

HBCUs can work with other organizations and community partners to find ways in which to increase their Black male enrollment. Partnering with high schools is a start. HBCUs can also partner with community colleges, predominately Black institutions, civic organizations, and churches to aid in the recruitment and enrollment of Black males. Of note, funders are pushing for more proposals that show collaborative practice across higher education and community organizations. With this in mind, HBCUs could garner additional revenue sources to aid students in completion.

Involve Students in Decision Making

For HBCUs that want to find out what will attract Black males to their campuses and support them while they are there, one of the greatest resources is students. Finding out from students what they need to be successful will prove beneficial for HBCUs. In this particular case, HBCUs can ask “What do Black males on campus feel is necessary to succeed?” or “What has been done to aid in Black male student success, retention, and completion on this campus?” This approach can also be used to find out what initially attracted Black men to the school, or how they became aware of the institution in the first place. Finding out what influenced students’ college choice can aid in assessing and evaluating how an institution recruits. This information can help HBCU campuses better understand why they are or are not attracting Black male students.

Toldson and the Initiative are making strides and bringing to the table important discussions regarding pipeline issues. Not only is it important for HBCU leaders, administrators, faculty, and staff to be a part of these conversations, but it is imperative that in bolstering the pipeline that their campuses are places these students can see themselves prospering. HBCUs have been places where Black students are educated and empowered. A more concerted effort has to be made to ensure that this continues to be the case for Black male students. And most importantly, this effort should be no secret. The question has been asked, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” HBCUs’ words, actions, and programming should say with a resounding sound, “Yes, yes we are.”

About the Authors

Felecia Commodore, Penn Center for Minority Serving InstitutionsFelecia Commodore is a third year PhD student in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. She has a background working as an admissions counselor and academic advisor at Trinity University, Washington, D.C. and University of Maryland, College Park respectively. Felecia obtained an M.A. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Maryland, College Park, MD and a B.S. in Marketing with a minor in Sociology from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Felecia was recently a 2013 intern for the Southern Education Foundation. Felecia's research focus area is HBCU leadership, governance, and administrative practices.
Marybeth Gasman, Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as the Director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Marybeth is an expert on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black leadership, fundraising and philanthropy in communities of color and Minority Serving Institutions. She is the author of 18 books in these subject areas and many articles.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top