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.
Basis for the Myth
More than 10 years ago, the Justice Policy Institute released the report "Cellblocks or Classrooms." While the report should have been a wake-up call to policymakers, one line resonated and echoed more than any other: "Nearly a third more African-American men are incarcerated than in higher education."
JPI has yet to acknowledge that today the enrollment of black males in college is drastically different from when it published "Cellblocks or Classrooms." If we replicated JPI's analysis by downloading enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Post‐Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we would find a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011. The raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011.
In September 2012, in response to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's screening of the film Hoodwinked, directed by Janks Morton, JPI issued a press release titled, "JPI Stands by Data in 2002 on Education and Incarceration." However, if one examines the IPEDS data from 2001 to 2011, it is clear that many colleges and universities were not reporting JPI's data 10 years ago.
In 2011, 4,503 colleges and universities across the United States reported having at least one black male student. In 2001, only 2,734 colleges and universities reported having at least one black male student, with more than 1,000 not reporting any data at all. When perusing the IPEDS list of colleges with significant black male populations today but none reported in 2001, I noticed several historically black colleges and universities, including Bowie State University, and my own alma mater, Temple University. Ironically, I was enrolled at Temple as a doctoral candidate in 2001.
As a researcher who uses large data sets, I understand the inherent margin of error associated with such analysis. However, I do think that JPI shows arrogance and imprudence when it "stands by" its original findings today. The increase in black male college enrollment over the past 10 years is due to three primary factors: 1. IPEDS more precisely tracking enrollment (artificial gains), 2. social advancements (authentic gains) and 3. the rise of community and for-profit colleges (authentic gains).