The other gender gap

Universities should create plans to increase graduation rates of minority male students

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, minority male students are much more likely to drop out of college, particularly black male students. A report released Tuesday makes several recommendations of how to solve this problem, and these recommendations come from researchers at seven different universities.

One of the report’s recommendations is that universities be required to report statistics on race, ethnicity and gender along with graduation rates, as not all currently do. If trends recorded by federal agencies are generalizable to individual institutions, universities should find that their minority male students are less likely to graduate. The University is a top-notch institution with a high six-year graduation rate: 93 percent. The University’s rate of graduation for African American students is among the highest in the country — about 83 percent — but it is still less than the rate of white students, and this disparity needs to be addressed. Even highly ranked universities are not immune from this national trend. All schools, no matter where they rank, should be examining this issue.

The report also recommends that the Department of Education mandate institutions of higher learning create and submit plans to improve graduation rates for minority males. This is a good recommendation, as it gives institutions freedom to design their own strategies in addressing this issue, and also ensures they are prioritizing this issue. If the Department of Education does adopt this policy, it should recognize that universities must be given time to collect data and conduct surveys on their students’ success rates to determine why this gap exists.

Universities who have offices for minority resources could coordinate with those staffs to come up with plans, and even reach out to student organizations. It is crucial that the minority groups of concern be involved in this process so that it does not turn into another form of paternalism.

The authors of the report emphasize that primary schools must also participate in addressing this education gap, as the disparities often begin when students are in elementary schools. Universities have no influence over the issues in the primary school system, but they still have a responsibility to help students who may come from less privileged educational backgrounds.

A study reported by The New York Times concluded that classes which focus on participation help black and first-generation college students improve academically. One of the study’s authors, Kelly A. Hogan, said this more active approach to learning effectively teaches study skills, which many disadvantaged students lack when they enter college. Universities should encourage first-year students to take smaller classes and recommend that professors demand participation and utilize active learning methods. This may be difficult at large institutions, but the University does offer seminars that specifically target first years, and many lecture classes at the University also require discussion sections where students can engage in active learning.

All universities have resources that can contribute to solving this pervasive gender and racial gap. Hopefully they will confront the problem head on, and develop well-informed, inclusive and practical solutions. Success rates, after all, should not be based on race or gender. Until the disparities go away, we still have a lot more work to do.

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