More Black Men in Jail Than in College? Wrong

Show Me the Numbers: A 13-year-old report using questionable data gave rise to an enduring myth.

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The top 10 colleges for enrolling black males consist of three for-profit colleges, four community colleges and three public four-year institutions. The University of Phoenix online campus reported 847 black male students in 2001 and 21,802 in 2011, making it the nation's top enroller of black male students. Second is Ashford University, which reported 23 black males in 2001 and 15,081 in 2011. 

Importantly, black male representation in higher education is proportional to black male representation in the adult population. However, lack of adequate guidance and academic rigor in high schools has resulted in black males being underrepresented at competitive universities like Rutgers and overrepresented at community colleges and online universities.

Consider this: If all 1,127,170 black males who were enrolled in undergraduate programs in 2010 eventually graduated, the total number of black males with college degrees would increase by 71 percent, nearly achieving parity with white males. However, we will not sufficiently support black male college students -- nor college-bound students -- if we simply keep perpetuating the myth that juxtaposes their needs with those of black males in the criminal-justice system.

Next week we examine the nation's persistent problem with mass incarceration among black men and why it has little to do with black male presence at colleges and universities. We also outline some of the unintended consequences of spreading the myth, ultimately in order to start a new agenda to increase college persistence and reduce incarceration for black males.

Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., is a tenured associate professor at Howard University, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education and contributing education editor for The Root. He can be contacted at itoldson@howard.edu. Follow him on Twitter.

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