Program Addresses Gender, Racial Disparities in Higher Ed

African-American females entering college outnumber black males by a ratio of 3 to 1. Reporter Mike Foley explores how Ohio State University began a vigorous recruiting campaign to tackle the problem.

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ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Newsweek recently ran a cover story titled, "Boys in Crisis." The article suggests young males everywhere, in just about every demographic, are fairing far worse than girls in the classroom. Various studies show that boys who fall behind are more likely to be shipped off to special education classes. The disparity is especially significant among African-American children. In a moment, we'll hear from two leading education experts.

But first, the achievement gap is perhaps most evident on college campuses. African-American females entering college outnumber black males by a ratio of 3:1. Reporter Mike Foley explores how Ohio State University began a vigorous recruiting campaign to try to bring more men of color to the school.

Mr. JABEZ(ph) ELLIS (Christian Rap Artist): Look at the demographics. The situation is drastic. You homies zipped up in plastic, should have made a bunkbed for a casket. We dying two at a time, but they don't care, they out in the grind. No way out, man it's hard to find.

MIKE FOLEY reporting:

That's Jabez Ellis, who fashions himself as an up-and-coming Christian rap artist. Ellis is a sophomore at Ohio State. His parents never finished college, so he says he never learned the importance of pursuing a degree. But after scoring well on a college entrance exam, and subsequently receiving offers from schools he had never heard of before, he came to realize something significant.

Mr. ELLIS: Hey, maybe college should be an option. I realize I need to further my education. And one thing about Ohio State is that I understood that in order to do success, I had to see success. You don't have to wait five years from now to be excellent, you know. Excellence is not a color, it's a characteristic. Like, I met the first black astronaut. You know, I met, Ray Miller. I met Jalil White. I met a lot of people--Archie Griffin--who were out there doing their thing, you know. They're just letting me know, hey, you can do it, too.

FOLEY: Ellis is referring to the African-American male resource center at Ohio State. He's attended several roundtable discussions set up by the center that involve prominent black OSU alums, local government officials, and celebrities. The center serves as a one-stop shop for black males to tap into a variety of resources. But to get students in the door, program manager Eric Troy says they have to know how badly they are wanted. He likens it to trying to persuade a star athlete.

Mr. ERIC TROY (Program Manager, Ohio State University): If the educational sector was to recruit a black male, primarily in middle school, the same way that we recruit them from sports, where would be we? And so, right now, the NBA really pretty much knows where the next Kobe and LeBron is going to come from. But we don't know where the next, for example, Gene Smith, who was the first African-American athletic director for Ohio State, we don't know where that person is going to come from, of color, and we should. We should be grooming black males right now to be in the front office of the Ohio State University, and at other institutions.

FOLEY: In 2004, OSU began a marketing campaign to entice more black males to the school. Public service announcements were, and continue to be aired across the state. Some feature students.

(Soundbite of Public Service Announcement)

MALIK: (In commercial clip) What time is it? It's time to think about checking out colleges. Yo, I'm Malik, and I'm a student at Ohio State. Now, you wouldn't buy a fat ride without taking a test drive, right? So, why would you go to a college that you didn't visit first?

FOLEY: Other messages come from graduates and parents.

(Soundbite of Public Service Announcement)

KIM: (In commercial clip) Hi, I'm Kim, and I'm an investment banker, and I want to let you in on a great investment opportunity, my son...

FOLEY: And some simply encourage and remind students to take a college entrance exam, or apply for financial aid. The university also produced and mailed out thousands of informative DVD's to urban school districts. And to keep black males in school once they finally decide to come, Troy says he builds personal relationships, and answers the most common question from students and parents, who's going to be there to help us?

Mr. TROY: And I think traditionally, that has been maybe some of the challenges, well, you came to recruitment me. Once I got on campus, where'd you go?

FOLEY: Troy says the idea is to stick with the student from the time he arrives, to the time he leaves, and beyond.

Mr. TROY: So, it really becomes a life-cycle. When you look at a household or a mother that is going to leave her son. In the African-American culture, there's one question, are you going to take care of my baby? That's it. Can I call you on your cell phone so when I can't necessarily find him or get an update of how he is doing, I want to be able to call someone. And that is how I operate as a professional. Not necessarily checking up, but there's a comfort zone.

FOLEY: Early indications show the program making a difference. Troy says 12 and a half percent more black males earned diplomas in 2005 than in 2004. And the retention rate increased by nearly eight percent.

Mr. TROY: Any jump for me is good, so be it from one quarter to one year. And I think what the 12 percent increase says for us is that we're doing something right. And a lot of times, your graduation rate needs to be more of a priority even than recruitment, because I go back to my point again, what good is it for me to recruit you, or to have you come to college if you're not going to finish?

FOLEY: OSU officials are holding up the African-American Male Resource Center as an example for other colleges and universities to emulate. They believe that if the program is repeated elsewhere, the number of black male college graduates will undoubtedly grow. Ohio State recently renamed the facility, the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African-American Male. Bell, a former Buckeye and Pro Bowl safety for the Chicago Bears, died last year at the age of 47 after suffering a heart attack. Bell had served as the center's program director.

For National Public Radio, I'm Mike Foley in Columbus, Ohio.

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