Black students' gender gap up at area colleges Officials discuss causes, effects of more females on campuses Photo Marcus Sneed, a senior at University of Toledo, said continuing education wasn't the thing to do for many of his friends. ( THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON ) Zoom | Photo Reprints By CLYDE HUGHES BLADE STAFF WRITER Marcus Sneed had a number of male friends at Scott High School, but none of them went to college with him at the University of Toledo. Mr. Sneed, 23, a senior and president of UT's student NAACP chapter, said he noticed that African-American women outnumber African-American men with each incoming freshman class at the university, but he wasn't surprised by it. "Continuing your education wasn't the thing to do for [my friends]," said Mr. Sneed, a business major and student government senator in UT's college of business administration. "It wasn't 'cool' to go to school. It was about making money fast and now." A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA's graduate school of education and information studies highlighted a widening gap between black women and black men in terms of entering college, achievement, and graduate-school preparation. Women make up almost 60 percent of black students in colleges around the country, compared to 54.5 percent in 1971. The study found that African-American women were more likely to enter college with "A" averages. Walter Allen, the Allan Murray Cartter chair in Higher Education at UCLA and author of the study, said the gap presents profound implications for the African-American community. "[The gender gap] was one of the key and most powerful findings from the study," Mr. Allen said. "The gender gap is a problem across all racial groups, but it's most pronounced for blacks. There are implications as well for marriage and child rearing because as black females are finishing school, they are not necessarily getting equally educated mates at the same percentage and numbers." Tyrone Bledsoe, former vice president of student affairs at the University of Toledo, said part of the problem seems to occur when young African-American males are turned off to school to the point where many are not completing high school. "When we look at the national graduation rates for African-Americans finishing high school, this last cycle of high school graduates for African-American males, only 41 percent graduated," said Mr. Bledsoe, the founder of the Student African-American Brotherhood, a group designed to assist black males in improving their collegiate experience and achievement. Phyllis Smith, founder of Miniya, a mentoring organization for African-American females at UT, said the lack of black men in college whittles away a major support group for black women on campus and in the work force after graduation. "I hear from girls all the time who may have a boyfriend who's at home and he doesn't see the value of her going to school or feels threatened by her education," said Ms. Smith, who is director of resident dining on campus. "Then she starts to feel pressure on whether or not to complete her education because he doesn't think it's so important. I think [lack of black males in college] can have a tremendous impact on African-Americans." Mieasha Hicks, 20, an African-American microbiology major at Bowling Green State University, said the gap started to show up before college. "You started to see it in high school, but in college [the lack of black men] is really noticeable," Miss Hicks said. Mr. Allen said part of the problem lies with the families and communities not placing more value on a college education for African-American men. He added that schools and the government can't be excused for letting many urban school districts go without the same services and resources as suburban schools. Many teachers around the country are too quick to push black students into special education classes or target them as trouble-makers, Mr. Allen said. He said he believes this comes mostly from cultural differences between a mostly white and female faculty and their understanding of the environment black males face in society. "There are differences in the [suburban and urban school] systems and resources and we are supposed to pretend all of those differences are all about differences in family. Kids spend eight hours a day in school, so it doesn't wash for me that it's just about what the parents aren't doing," Mr. Allen said. Mr. Bledsoe said his organization, which has 135 college chapters, has started to reach into the high schools to provide mentors for African-American men. He said the first line of attack in improving the numbers among African-American men in college is improving their perception of school. "If they hate school, what are they going to do when they get there?" he said. "They're going to act up, they're going to do everything to fulfill this notion that they hate school." SAAB, through grants from the Toledo Community Foundation and nationally from the Lumina Foundation for Education, has started high school chapters locally at St. Francis de Sales, Woodward, Rogers, and Bowsher high schools, along with schools in San Diego, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Grenada, Miss. He said what SAAB offers is constant engagement, encouragement, and helping boys develop a specific plan to get through college and be successful afterward. Mr. Bledsoe said SAAB has shown some success. He said of the black men who participate in his organization, which he created when he was an administrator at Georgia Southwestern College in 1990, 70 percent have gone on to graduate, well above the 30 percent of African-American males who graduate after entering college. He said 85 percent of Student African-American Brotherhood participants remain in college between freshman and sophomore years, more than double the U.S. average of 40 percent. "We're trying to figure out how best to give high school students a SAAB experience," Mr. Bledsoe said. "Kids are going back and forth with jobs and families. There's a lot of movement going on. It's much different than a four-year college like UT when you have 5,000 students who live on campus." One bright spot can be seen at Owens Community College. Bill Ivoska, vice president of student services, said black male freshmen enrollment (409 students) topped black female enrollment (332 students) this fall. The school experienced a 53 percent increase in African-American freshman males from 2004 to 2005, Mr. Ivoska said. In the past five years, the school has had a 60 percent increase in minority graduates. "That means we're getting them here, they're staying, and they're getting their degrees," he said. Mr. Ivoska said he credits the increase to Owens' efforts to increase the presence of minority students on campus, small classes, lower cost than four-year institutions, and making sure those students have the services needed to ensure success. Contact Clyde Hughes at: [email protected] or 419-724-6495.