Debunking Education Myths About Blacks

Show Me the Numbers: Our series with the Journal of Negro Education shows that the news isn't all bad.


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Here is why a correction was in order: IPUMS data show that today, the nation’s 12.7 million black men 18 years old and older make up 5.5 percent of the adult population in the U.S., and the 76.4 million white men in the same age range make up 32.7 percent. According to the 2010 census, 1.2 million black male college students make up 5.5 percent of all college students, while the 5.6 million white male students make up 27 percent (or should we say “just” 27 percent?) (Ruggles, et al).

The Facts Are Bad Enough. Let’s at Least Get Them Right

Black males are not underrepresented in colleges and universities (as for whether they’re underrepresented among college graduates, we’ll get to that shortly).

I am certain that this statement will be met with tremendous skepticism. Many news stories about black men point to unemployment, high school dropout rates and incarceration, so in the face of such negative tidings, the idea that black male representation on college campuses is population-consistent will seem far-fetched to most.

In addition, most of us have heard that black-female-to-black-male ratios at HBCUs are as high as 12-to-1. Well, the true ratio is 1.75-to-1. Coppin State University is the only HBCU that has a ratio that exceeds 3-to-1 (it is 3.3-to-1, to be exact).

Still, there’s no denying that the situation for black men in the United States is tenuous. Although 45 percent of black men 25 and older have attempted college, only 16 percent have a four-year degree — half the percentage of white males who have a four-year degree, as Lorenzo Esters and I report in The Quest for Excellence (pdf). Black males are incarcerated at a rate that is seven times the rate for white males (pdf) and are more likely than any other race group to be victims of a violent crime, including homicide.

Black people need not be insulated from their harsh realities, but many of the reported figures and statistics about black people are poorly sourced, outdated, out of context and not factual. For instance, the first paragraph of Russell Simmons’ Huffington Post article “Black Male Multiple Choice: Unemployed, High School Dropout or Incarcerated” is replete with errors. Here, Simmons writes, “Black men represent 8 percent of the population of the United States but comprise 3 percent of all college undergrads.” (Does this sound familiar?) In total, the first paragraph weaves about 10 rogue statistics that together make black men and boys seem hopeless and beyond repair.