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When Gender Issues Are Not Just About Women: Reconsidering Male Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


by Valerie Lundy-Wagner & Marybeth Gasman - 2011

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The primary purpose of this study is to examine the research and literature on African American male enrollment, experiences, and degree completion trends at four-year HBCUs. The secondary goal is to recenter the gendered dialogue that occurs within HBCU undergraduate student research, such that barriers specific to African American men are identified and examined, with the expectation of better promoting their postsecondary success.

Research Design: Analytic essay, cross-sectional data analysis.

Data Collection and Analysis: First, we conducted a review of historical and contemporary literature to identify the role and contribution of four-year HBCUs on African American males over time. In addition, we employed a secondary data analysis of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to identify six-year graduation rates for one cohort of African American male and female student at HBCUs.

Findings/Results: Critical analysis of historical data from the mid-19th to early 21st century indicates that African American males have indeed been neglected in research on undergraduate enrollment, experiences, and degree completion at four-year HBCUs. African American males face a number of issues that are not absolved on matriculation to HBCUs merely because their environments are predominantly Black. Our analysis suggests that in general, the nurturing and supportive environment on HBCU campuses, when harnessed by African American male (and female) students, can promote postsecondary matriculation and success.

Conclusions/Recommendations: HBCUs have undoubtedly afforded African American males a route by which to gain access to postsecondary education. However, the lack of attention toward their struggles has served to silence their gendered experience and perpetuate a lack of accountability for African American male underachievement within the higher education establishment. Future gendered analyses of HBCU undergraduates ought to address both the male and female experience on these campuses using a variety of appropriate methodological approaches.

The challenges facing men at HBCUs may be more disturbing in some ways, given the belief that these institutions ostensibly provide a safe haven of sorts for African American student growth and development.


— W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006, p. 189


Although historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been touted as the best institutions for African American students overall, this assertion often lacks consideration of gender. In fact, although numerous texts have exposed the disproportionate representation of HBCU alumni among female and male African American bachelor’s degree holders, in-depth consideration of gender focusing specifically on African American men is generally lacking within higher education research. Although there are relatively few studies about HBCUs and their students, the essential omission of African American males within this body of literature seems rather negligent, given that this demographic group has been consistently marginalized in American society and within the education system (Cuyjet, 2006; Gordon, Gordon, & Nembhard, 1994; Hall & Rowan, 2001; Harper, 2006; Heggins, 2004; Hill, 1984; Lundy & Firebaugh, 2005; Mandara, 2006; Maton, Hrabowski, & Greif, 1998).


In 2007, African Americans comprised 13.9% of the fall enrollment at two- and four-year postsecondary degree-granting institutions (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2009). With regard to gender, African American men and women represented 10.7% and 14.8% of all undergraduates enrolled in degree-granting institutions, respectively (Snyder et al.). Interestingly, 15% of those students were enrolled at HBCUs, although HBCUs make up only 3% of American postsecondary institutions (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2009; Provasnik, Shafer, & Snyder, 2004). At HBCUs, gender disparities in enrollment have been present for decades (Hill, 1984; Provasnik et al.). In fact, women constitute more than 60% of African American enrollment at the 45 public HBCUs (Geiger, 2006); similar trends are present at private HBCUs as well (NCES, 2009).


HISTORY OF HBCUs


Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans were almost completely excluded from higher education institutions in practice and through de facto segregation in the Southern states. To overcome this problem, HBCUs were established by multiple parties (i.e., African American initiative, missionary aid societies, the Freedman’s Bureau, and northern White philanthropists) specifically to educate African Americans (Anderson, 1988; Brazzell, 1992; Bowles & DeCosta, 1971; Drewry, Doermann, & Anderson, 2001; Gasman, 2007b). As a result, HBCUs have played a significant role in educating African Americans. In fact, up until the mid-1950s, well over three quarters of African Americans with bachelor’s degrees obtained them at HBCUs, easily demonstrating the importance of these institutions to African American higher education (Allen & Jewel, 2002; Hill, 1984).


However, with momentum from the desegregation movement in public education, HBCUs remained committed to educating African Americans. In fact, HBCU advocates suggested that these institutions would be needed to help historically White institutions (HWIs) make the transition from all-White to enrolling African American students (Gasman, 2007a; Samuels, 2004). A secondary rationale for maintaining HBCUs related to their ability to provide postsecondary access to students who were underprepared academically as a result of segregation and racism (Anderson, 1988; Drewry et al., 2001; Gasman, 2007a). In fact, this legacy of “value added” continues today; onlookers are mystified by the nonlinear relationship between HBCU selectivity and graduate school matriculation. For example, practitioners and scholars continue to question how a relatively noncompetitive institution like Xavier University in New Orleans can have such low admissions criteria, yet produce a significant proportion of competitive Black medical school matriculants each year (Carmichael, Labat, Hunter, Privett, & Sevenair, 1993).


Though the commitment of HBCUs to African American postsecondary achievement is remarkable and commendable, disaggregation of enrollment, as well as persistence and degree completion data by gender, suggests that HBCUs best educate African American women; a similar declaration is hard to assert for African American men. In fact, between 1976 and 2001, Black women represented more than 50% of the African American enrollment at 87 four-year HBCUs (Provasnik et al., 2004). Furthermore, the significant gains in Black postsecondary enrollment at HBCUs can be almost exclusively attributed to gains made by Black women, given that African American male enrollment at HBCUs has essentially stagnated over the years (Geiger, 2006; Provasnik et al.).


In terms of outcomes, between 1995 and 2004, African American males consistently accounted for only 3% of all bachelor’s degree recipients (Hill & Green, 2007), whereas they constituted approximately 7% of all 25- to 29-year-olds (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Not surprisingly, African American males at HBCUs represented a noticeably smaller share of bachelor’s degree recipients than their same-race female peers, a proportion that has either decreased or not changed at the individual institution level (NCES, 2009; Provasnik et al., 2004). Although Black men have been significantly outpaced by Black women in the past 30 years at HBCUs both in enrollment and completion, little published research has examined this disparity.


In fact, the research comparing Black student experiences and outcomes at HBCUs and HWIs often concludes that HBCUs are as effective or more effective at promoting student success (e.g., Berger & Milem, 2000; Bohr, Pascarella, Nora, & Terenzini, 1995; DeSousa & Kuh, 1996; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Kim, 2002; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Watson & Kuh, 1996). In comparison with HWIs, HBCUs’ effectiveness is often attributed to the nurturing learning environments and liberal arts college-type characteristics (e.g., small class sizes and low student-teacher ratios), as well as to the Black college history and mission, which aims to expressly serve and educate Black students (Allen & Jewell, 2002; Anderson, 1988; Drewry & Doerman, 2003; Hill, 1984; D. Williams & Ashley, 2004). In addition, many HBCUs have afforded academically underprepared students a postsecondary education that might have otherwise been impossible. However, these measures of HBCU effectiveness are relative to HWIs and rarely incorporate gender.


Since the seminal higher education works on HBCUs (e.g., Allen, 1992; Bullock, 1967; Fleming, 1984; Garibaldi, 1984; Gurin & Epps, 1975; Jones, 1969; Patterson, 1952; Willie & Edmonds, 1978), there has been some effort to examine HBCU undergraduate student enrollment, experiences, and outcomes with consideration of gender (e.g., Allen, 1986; Allen & Haniff, 1991; Chavous, Harris, Rivas, Helaire, & Green, 2004; Cokley, 2001; Gasman, 2007a, 2007b; Geiger, 2006; Harper, Carini, Bridges, & Hayek, 2004; Peters et al., 2005; Tabbye, Harris, Rivas, Helaire, & Green, 2004; Wang, Browne, Storr, & Wagner, 2005; L. A. Williams, 1986). Though most authors have noted that African American men are poorly represented among HBCU undergraduate populations, often in empirical research, there remains a peculiar attentiveness to the challenges of African American female students at HBCUs (e.g., Bonner, 2001; M. G. Constantine & Watt, 2002; Fleming, 1983, 1984; Gasman, 2007b; Watt, 2006; L. A. Williams) over their same-race male peers.


This perceived avoidance of examining Black male students in HBCU research beyond notation of their “statistical insignificance” is problematic for at least two reasons. First, the reality is that African American males have been, and continue to be, underrepresented in all of higher education and HBCUs at least in part because of systematic racism, poor primary and secondary school preparation, and lagging achievement (Cuyjet, 2006; Gordon et al., 1994; Hall & Rowan, 2001; Harper, 2006; Heggins, 2004; Hill, 1984; Loury, 2004; Lundy & Firebaugh, 2005; Mandara, 2006; Maton et al., 1998; Mello & Swanson, 2007; Mickelson & Greene, 2006; Osborne, 1999; Saunders, Davis, Williams, & Williams, 2004; Smith & Fleming, 2006; Stewart, 2006; Stinson, 2006; Wilson-Sadberry, Winfield, & Royster, 1991). As one of the most marginalized demographic groups in the United States, it seems reasonable to consider how African American males experience postsecondary educational settings that were specifically established to serve their racial group. Even more compelling is that the raw data on Black men at HBCUs alone do not support a portrayal of experiences full of success and achievement, but rather barriers and struggle (Geiger, 2006; Nettles & Perna, 1997; NCES, 2009). Although HBCUs are not obliged by law to educate the underserved, in comparison with their HWI peer institutions, some may be the best equipped to examine, understand, and improve African American male postsecondary success.


Second, the research focusing on gender at HBCUs typically results in an implication that gender is synonymous with female. Although traditional language rules suggest that gender is a reference to the condition of being male or female, gender issues are usually associated with women. In fact, although a number of publications examined “gender” barriers at HBCUs, they focused primarily on women and their experiences (e.g., Allen, 1986; Bonner, 2001; Gasman, 2007b; L. R. Jackson, 1998; L. A. Williams, 1986). In combination, the omission of African American undergraduate men and the association of gender with female in HBCU research both marginalizes and silences the Black male gendered experience.


PURPOSE


Within contemporary literature, understanding and contextualizing African American student experiences at HBCUs using a male-centered lens are virtually nonexistent, both theoretically and empirically.1 For the purpose of this piece, African American male experiences include direct measures like levels of engagement in and outside the classroom, but also indirect measures like enrollment and degree completion data. Though indirect measures may not provide a complete picture of African American males’ experiences, we believe that such data can provide some insight. Along those lines, the primary purpose of this study is to examine African American male enrollment, experiences, and degree completion trends at four-year HBCUs. A secondary goal of this article is to recenter the gendered dialogue that occurs within HBCU research, such that barriers specific to African American men are identified and examined, with the expectation of better promoting their postsecondary success. In an attempt to refrain from scholarship that pits African American female and male students against one another in a zero-sum game, this article simply strives to focus explicitly on African American males at HBCUs.


To provide a comprehensive account of African American males at HBCUs, both a literature review and secondary data analysis were conducted to answer the following research questions: (1) What role have HBCUs played in educating African American male students? (2) How do scholars examine and analyze contemporary trends in African American male enrollment, experiences, and degree completion at HBCUs?


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK


All things considered, the purpose of this study is to foreground gender within research on African American undergraduates at HBCUs. According to Evelyn Nakano Glenn (1998), “there are important points of congruence” between the concepts of race and gender (p. 9). Within postsecondary educational research, attention to race and gender is particularly important because there are significant disparities by gender for all racial/ethnic groups in terms of enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates (NCES, 2009). Not only are these differences rooted in various societal and cultural idiosyncrasies prior to college enrollment, but they are also prevalent during the undergraduate years. Because Black college and university environments bring together both race and gender differences, an integrative framework is most appropriate for examining students enrolled at these institutions. However, as we will show, most researchers writing about Black colleges have not seen the combined effect of these two types of difference for African American males. Although it is possible to look at race and gender in isolation, to do so obscures the complexities of the Black college context. In this article, we traverse the existing literature, noting a range of stances on gender within HBCU research. Within the race-specific context of Black colleges, many authors ignore gender altogether or make gender synonymous with female. Alternatively, some authors see gender but not its relationship to race, and a few recognize the dual impact of race and gender on African American males.


APPROACH


As mentioned, the purpose of this article is to review research on African American male enrollment, experiences, and degree completion trends at four-year HBCUs from their inception and to recenter the gendered dialogue that occurs within HBCU scholarship. To achieve this goal, a two-tiered approach incorporating both a literature review and secondary data analysis was employed. First, we conducted a review of historical and contemporary literature to identify the role and contribution of four-year HBCUs as they pertain to African American males’ postsecondary attainment over time. In addition, we employed a secondary data analysis to identify enrollment and persistence trends relevant to African American men at HBCUs. These two approaches were deemed appropriate to answer the guiding research questions: (1) What role have HBCUs played in educating African American male students? (2) How do scholars examine and analyze trends in African American male enrollment, experiences, and degree completion at HBCUs?


Numerous sources of data informed our understanding of African American male enrollment, persistence, and graduation from HBCUs. First, we conducted an extensive literature review on African American men at HBCUs. Because HBCUs constitute such a small percentage of postsecondary institutions (3%), not surprisingly, there is relatively little research on them and their students. However, we reviewed relevant articles and reports in an effort to determine how the African American male presence and experience at HBCUs have been noted and analyzed. We also used historical texts to provide context related to the gender lens, particularly in terms of curricular offerings at HBCUs.


Second, we examined enrollment and graduation data for HBCUs by gender from the middle to late 19th century to 2007. Because of technological limitations, the data on HBCU enrollment and graduation prior to the 1950s are sparse; however, we used historical texts and miscellaneous government reports on HBCUs to improve the range of data, though in some cases, the data were not disaggregated by gender (e.g., Anderson, 1988; Carnegie Commission, 1971; Hill, 1984; Thompson, 1973).


In addition, we disaggregated data held with the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) by ethnicity/race and gender to examine enrollment and degree completion trends of African Americans at HBCUs between the 1980s and 2007, as available. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, IPEDS surveys are designed to provide data about enrollment, program completion, faculty, staff, and finances for virtually all postsecondary educational institutions nationwide (NCES, 2009). We then used data from the IPEDS surveys to calculate cumulative six-year bachelor’s degree completion rates for one cohort of African American male and female students at HBCUs. We compared IPEDS data for first-time, full-time African American freshmen enrolled at four-year bachelor’s degree-granting HBCUs in the fall of 1997 with the actual number of graduates in 2000–2001, 2001–2002, and 2002–2003, respectively. These institution-level analyses attempted to identify the contribution of HBCUs to the conferring of bachelor’s degrees to African American men and women at one point in time. With an eye toward inclusion, we used these three elements to provide a critical, integrated, yet comprehensive analysis of African American male students at HBCUs.


ANALYSIS OF LITERATURE USING A GENDER LENS


The literature on African American students at HBCUs is quite contradictory with respect to male students. On the one hand, there are multiple assertions that HBCUs are the best institutions for African American students (Allen, 1992; Brown & Freeman, 2004; Fleming, 1984; Garibaldi, 1991; D. Williams & Ashley, 2004; Willie, Reddick, & Brown, 2006). On the other hand, the reality of poor achievement, enrollment, and undergraduate degree completion by African American males at HBCUs suggests a gendered effect (Geiger, 2006; NCES, 2009; Nettles & Perna, 1997; Provasnik et al., 2004). Based on these accounts, whether African American males are most successful at HBCUs is ambiguous. Although few studies explicitly examine African American male undergraduate enrollment, persistence, and degree completion at HBCUs, other pockets of literature on HBCUs and gender inform this research.


TRADITIONAL HBCU LITERATURE


Often literature on HBCUs is used to clarify or justify their existence in a post–civil rights era, implicitly or explicitly (e.g., AAUP Committee, 1995; Allen & Jewell, 2002; Bowles & DeCosta, 1971; Brown, 1999; Brown, Donahoo, & Bertrand, 2001; Harvey & Williams, 1989; Jaffe, Walter, & Meyers, 1968; Willie & Edmonds, 1978). As a result, reference to gender is not typically highlighted, because aggregate data on Black students have been sufficient to document HBCU successes in terms of enrollment and bachelor’s degree completion.


Examinations of gender at HBCUs often refer to one of the most well-known seminal texts on HBCUs, Jacqueline Flemings’s (1984) Blacks in College, a book that attempts to assess whether HBCUs or HWIs better develop African American college students. Interestingly, the book presents a comparison of White students at HWIs and therefore analyzes data on both Black and White men and women at HWIs, and Black men and women at HBCUs. Most pertinent to the study presented here are Fleming’s (1984) findings that indicate significant gender differences among the African American HBCU student experiences. In particular, the research echoes findings by other scholars indicating that African American women experienced marginalization on HBCU campuses both in and outside the classroom (e.g., Allen, 1986, 1992; Bonner, 2001; Gurin & Epps, 1975; Harper et al., 2004; L. R. Jackson, 1998). With regard to African American men at HBCUs and their experiences, however, Fleming (1984) provided only a smattering of attention. In fact, after noting that African American men were “dominant” on HBCU campuses, the author described a perplexing interpersonal “aloofness” that is never revisited:


In the supportive environments of black colleges, where black men feel accepted, interpersonal issues become almost irrelevant to them. They show far less concern for others. They use the many opportunities for comforting relationships to reach a state of interpersonal detachment. Thus, in a warm environment where there are many opportunities for relatedness, black males strive to remain unaffected by people. (Fleming, 1984, p. 143)


In sum, although Fleming (1984) put forth consideration of both gender and race in the research design and analysis, there is a noticeable disparity in the attention afforded African American male and female student issues. In fact, seemingly contradictory findings about the Black male experience are highlighted, though never explicitly questioned or explored. In the end, this work easily concluded that HBCUs better develop African American students than do HWIs, providing little to no qualification of Black men at HBCUs.


Since seminal works like Fleming’s (1984), numerous scholars have conducted comparative studies on HBCUs and HWIs, focusing on multiple aspects of higher education. For example, some studies examine college choice (Freeman, 1999, 2005; Freeman & Thomas, 2002; McDonough, Antonio, & Trent, 1997; Tobolowsky, Outcalt, & McDonough, 2005), experience (Boone, 2003; Garibaldi, 1991; Harvey & Williams, 1996; Kim, 2004; R. M. Kimbrough, Molock, & Walton, 1996, Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002), achievement (DeSousa & Kuh, 1996; K. W. Jackson & Swan, 1991; Kim, 2002; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Nasim, Roberts, Harrell, & Young, 2005; Rovai, Gallien, & Wighting, 2005), persistence (Himelhoch, Nichols, Ball, & Black, 1997; Wilson, 2007) and outcomes (Allen, 1992; Berger & Milem; 2000; J. M. Constantine, 1995; Dreher & Chargois, 1998; Ehrenberg & Rothstein, 1994; Flowers, 2002; Kim, 2002; Perna, 2001; Sibulkin & Butler, 2005; Strayhorn, 2008). In some comparison studies, particularly those in which aggregate institutional or racial/ethnic group data are used, gender is not mentioned (e.g., Ehrenberg & Rothstein; Himelhoch et al.; Kim, 2002; R. M. Kimbrough et al., 1996; Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002). However, there are cases in which gender is incorporated, though usually in terms of sample composition; scholars have consistently noted the underrepresentation of African American male students on HBCU campuses and how that contributes to empirical work (e.g., Anderson, 1988; Geiger, 2006; Harper, 2006; Nettles & Perna, 1997; Provasnik et al., 2004). Regardless of research design, African American male students are often underrepresented in both qualitative and quantitative HBCU/HWI research.


Despite the varying degrees of attention toward gender in the HBCU/HWI comparison studies, there are some explicit and significant findings about gender. First, multiple authors of comparison studies note the marginalization of African American women at HBCUs, the greater likelihood of Black female degree attainment at HBCUs, and that African American women are more likely to benefit from attending an HBCU versus an HWI (e.g., Allen, 1992; Berger & Milem, 2000; Fleming, 1984; Kim, 2004; Kim & Conrad, 2006). With respect to the comparison studies’ consideration of African American men, the findings are considerably less prominent, but shed some light on distinct types of difference. Specifically, the research might compare Black men at HBCUs and HWIs (e.g., Allen & Haniff, 1991; Watson & Kuh, 1996), Black women and Black men at HBCUs (e.g., Allen, 1986; Bonner, 2001; Fleming, 2001; Harper et al., 2004; L. A. Williams, 1986) or both (e.g., Chavous et al., 2004; Fleming, 1984; K. W. Jackson & Swan, 1991; Sibulkin & Butler, 2005). Though these different analytical strategies indicate differences based on gender and institution type, they virtually all suggest that Black men “dominate” HBCU campuses and that Black women are marginalized.


In sum, when HBCUs and HWIs are compared, the literature presents an overwhelming consensus that HBCUs are the best institutions for all African Americans. The literature seems to eccentrically normalize the recognition of Black female success and gender-based marginalization at HBCUs while also hopelessly reporting Black male underachievement in the same institutions. However, because few comparison studies explicitly set out to examine gender differences within the HBCU context, conclusions about whether HBCUs are better for Black men or women appear premature and require additional research.


GENDER IN HBCU LITERATURE


Although there is relatively little research on HBCUs in higher education, within that body of knowledge, a subset of literature explores the role of gender (see Bonner, 2001; Chavous et al., 2004; Cokley, 2001; Gasman, 2007b; Geiger, 2006; Harper et al., 2004; Peters et al., 2005; Tabbye et al., 2004; Wang et al., 2005; L. A. Williams, 1986). In fact, some documents provide descriptive statistics on gender at HBCUs (e.g., Geiger, 2006; Nettles & Perna, 1997; Nettles, Wagener, Millett, & Killenbeck, 1999; Provasnik et al., 2004), with little analysis of the disparity, and some empirically based publications explicitly consider gender at HBCUs. This literature is often titled without a specific focus on men or women within the research design, thereby implying consideration of both gender groups (e.g., Allen & Haniff, 1991; Bonner; Chavous et al.; Cokley; Harper et al.; L. R. Jackson, 1998; Watt, 2006).


However, in-depth review of these gender-focused works suggests that issues related to gender at HBCUs are oftentimes a reference to women; few studies afford a critical lens toward African American males. For example, in Harper et al. (2004), the authors examined student engagement and satisfaction gender gaps at HBCUs. After noting the underrepresentation of African American men in the research design, the results revealed no significant gender differences on six of the eight measures of engagement. The findings were eventually summarized in the declaration that “HBCU women no longer lag behind men in their academic and social engagement experiences” (Harper et al., , p. 277) and that African American male dominance has “subsided considerably” (p. 280). Interestingly, this presentation of research appears to juxtapose the gains of Black women and the losses of Black men, though not necessarily intentionally. Furthermore, although the authors thoughtfully questioned why seemingly engaged African American men at HBCUs have low persistence rates, the discussion and implications were primarily focused on women (Harper et al.).


Interestingly, extra attention to women at HBCUs seems indicative of other HBCU gender research as well. Bonner (2001) and L. R. Jackson (1998) both attempt to inspire dialogue on gender at HBCUs; however, a review of the research questions reveals that Black women are the focal point. In addition, Gasman’s (2007b) historiography of gender and Black colleges effectively reviewed and critiqued the systematic exclusion of African American women in HBCU history, leadership, and longevity. Although the review sheds light on Black male-dominated administration of HBCUs, there is little consideration of African American male students (Gasman, 2007b). In effect, there is a steadily growing body of literature on gender at HBCUs that essentially highlights the African American female experience (e.g., Bonner, 2001; Ferguson, Quinn, Eng, & Sandelowski, 2006; Gasman, 2007b; L. R. Jackson, 1998; Lent et al., 2005; Watt, 2006).


Other publications on gender at HBCUs provide a more balanced analysis, pointing out the obstacles facing both HBCU male and female students. For example, Chavous et al. (2004) examined racial stereotype expectations, gender, academic self-concept, and academic performance of African American students at an HBCU and an HWI. The findings are presented such that the complexities of race, gender, and academic major within the HBCU environment are noted (Chavous et al.). Moreover, although the authors connected their results to others noting Black women’s marginalization at HBCUs, they explicitly admitted that their research design did not permit determination of “how or whether African American men are experiencing different types of responses and reactions from their college institution than are African American women” (p. 13). Supporting this more balanced consideration of gender at HBCUs, many scholars have also noted the fallacy of assuming that African American students at HBCUs do not face socially constructed or derived barriers (e.g., related to gender, economics, or race; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006).


AFRICAN AMERICAN MALES AT HBCUS


Although research that broadly focuses on gender and HBCUs falls short in providing men and women equal attention, a small and growing body of literature specifically examines African American men (e.g., W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Palmer & Strayhorn, 2008, Riggins, McNeal, & Herndon, 2008; Ross, 1998). Much in the same spirit of comparison studies, some of this research provides an empirically based justification for HBCUs’ continued existence by highlighting the successes of African American male students (Palmer & Gasman; Riggins et al.; Ross, 1998). Along these lines, the single-institution case studies by Robert Palmer and colleagues (see Palmer & Gasman; Palmer & Strayhorn) provide in-depth consideration of the benefits that African American men receive on HBCU campuses. In one study, 11 graduating Black male students at one institution were interviewed to discuss their success, despite having been academically underprepared when they entered college (Palmer & Gasman). Confirming others’ findings, the authors identified a common theme around the participants responses, specifically the nurturing and supportive environment (i.e., the institution and its students, staff, and faculty) that enabled study participants to develop social capital that both inspired and propelled their postsecondary success (Palmer & Gasman).


Along other lines, W. M. Kimbrough and Harper (2006) provided a more informative, though preliminary, consideration of the barriers that African American male students face on HBCU campuses. In fact, in the beginning of their piece, the authors noted the gender gaps in HBCU enrollment, persistence, and completion, and then challenged the assumption “that PWIs [predominately White institutions] are mainly responsible for the low retention and degree completion rates of racial and ethnic minority college students” (W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006, p. 191)—or Black male students in this case. In addition to providing a critical analysis of descriptive statistics, W. M. Kimbrough and Harper presented the findings of in-depth focus groups with African American male student leaders from multiple HBCUs, focusing on both their personal experiences and perceptions of Black men at HBCUs overall. Reminiscent of the “aloofness” that Fleming (1984) used to describe Black men, the participants in W. M. Kimbrough and Harper indicated that African American men at their HBCUs experienced barriers related to interpersonal relationship building. Not only were those relationships between Black male and Black female peers at school noted, but in addition, those with family and on-campus institutional supports (i.e., counselors, faculty, and staff) were mentioned, and all were perceived to negatively contribute to their same-race, same-gender peers’ (lack of) success.


With few exceptions (e.g., W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Riggins et al., 2008), the African American male perspective is poorly represented in HBCU literature. Even when gender is noted in the literature, there often is little or nothing about African American male students at HBCU. Furthermore, although the literature repeatedly suggests that African American men engage with HBCU faculty as much or more than their same-race female peers (see Allen, 1992. or Harper et al., 2004, for example), rarely is this juxtaposed with raw data on Black male enrollment or completion at HBCUs. Although there are indeed African American male success stories within the literature, this research and inferences from it should be contextualized in terms of research design and methodological approach, given that there is evidence spanning at least the past 30 years that African American male students face barriers to success at HBCUs. In particular, the challenges related to developing academically and emotionally supportive relationships suggests at least one major void in our understanding of the Black male experience at HBCUs (e.g., Fleming, 1984, 2001; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006).


FINDINGS


HBCUs have played, and continue to play, a significant and unique role in educating African American males. Critical analysis of historical data from the mid-19th to early 21st century indicates that African American males have indeed been neglected in analyses of student enrollment, experiences, and degree completion at HBCUs (Anderson, 1988; Bowles & DeCosta, 1971; Brazzell, 1992; Bullock, 1967; Butchart, 1980; Drewry et al., 2001; Evans, 2007; Fultz, 1995; Hill, 1984; Holmes, 1934, 1949, 1969; Ihle, 1992; Jaffe, Walter, & Meyers, 1968; Jencks & Riesman, 1967; Klein, 1969; Logan, 1958; McGrath, 1965; McKinney, 1932; Miller, 1933; Noble, 1956; Thompson, 1973; D. Williams & Ashley, 2004; Willie et al., 2006; Willie & Edmonds, 1978). In addition, it is apparent that African American males face a number of issues that are not absolved on matriculation to HBCUs merely because their environments are predominantly Black. The common theme spanning the research reviewed is that the nurturing and supportive environments at HBCUs, when harnessed by African American male (and female) students, can promote postsecondary matriculation and success. Interestingly, this has yet to be explored empirically to any great length.


THE BLACK ENROLLMENT GENDER GAP


Analysis of available literature and other secondary data sources confirms that the African American enrollment gap favoring women at HBCUs is not new. African American men may have only outnumbered women at HBCUs from their inception to the mid-1920s, largely because of educational program offerings and industry-specific gender norms. In fact, HBCUs established between 1854 and 1890 had enrollments ranging from approximately 250 to 600 and, according to historical texts, men outnumbered women (Holmes, 1969; Klein, 1929). By 1900, African American male and female college enrollments at HBCUs were 1,562 and 606, respectively (Johnson, 1938). Essentially, as HBCUs grew, Black male students enjoyed greater access to postsecondary enrollment, resulting in a presence more than double that of their same-race female peers.


With time, HBCU enrollments continued to grow, and the purpose of African American education began to shift, affording Black women additional postsecondary opportunities. In fact, by 1920, theological studies had become less prominent in the HBCU curriculum, and teacher education, and agriculture and mechanical arts became the foci (Holmes, 1969; Klein, 1929; McGrath, 1965). During this curricular shift and educational expansion, many individual HBCUs began to enroll more African American women than men (see Figure 1). By 1927, 14,000 African Americans were enrolled at 77 HBCUs, and almost half of those students were women (Anderson, 1988; Brazzell, 1992; Bullock, 1967; Hill, 1984; Holmes, 1969; Logan, 1958; McGrath; Noble, 1956; Thompson, 1973; Willie & Edmonds, 1978).


[39_15936.htm_g/00002.jpg]

Source: Bowles, F., & DeCosta, F. A. (1971). Between two worlds: A profile of Negro higher education. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Table 1 presents a rough overview of the various types of HBCUs during the 1926–1927 academic year. Although women represented an increasing share of Black enrollments at HBCUs, there were noticeable gender-related differences. For example, men were well represented in land grant colleges because of the focus on the professions (i.e., agriculture, mechanics, medicine, and law), whereas women were more densely distributed in teacher training institutions (Anderson, 1988; Brazzel, 1992; Holmes, 1934; Klein, 1929). Further exacerbating this gender imbalance were program funding constraints that forced many land grant and liberal arts colleges to focus on teacher training (Craig, 1992; Humphries, 1991).


Table 1: Enrollment at HBCUs by Institutional Control, Gender, and Contribution to Degrees Granted for 1926-1927

Institutional board controla

Men

Women

% Enrollment of men

Degrees grantedb

Academic program focus

Negro denominational control

884

783

53%

12%

Classical liberal arts & theology

Independent control

2,417

1,672

59%

37%

Classical liberal arts & theology

Land grant colleges

1,055

1,472

42%

17%

Secondary schooling & mechanic arts

State teacher training

38

426

8%

NAc

Teacher training

Northern church control

1,752

1,558

53%

34%

Industrial training, liberal arts and sciences & theology

Source: Klein (1929) Survey of Negro Colleges and Universities. Data are missing for Barber College, an all-women's institution, and Xavier College, an institution that focused on preprofessional studies.


a Institutional board control categories are not arbitrary, however, data are not independent for each category. For example, a state teacher training college may also be a land grant college.

b Data for degrees granted pertain to the 1925–1926 academic year.

c At the time of publication in 1929, no degrees had been granted at the state teacher training schools.


According to Hill (1984), “Overall, women have traditionally outnumbered men among TBI [traditionally Black institution] students, except right after WW2” (p. 22). This seemingly anomalous midcentury rise in Black male enrollment can be attributed to increased access to postsecondary education through the G. I. Bill (see Figure 2), which disproportionately affected African American men. In fact, Black men constituted more than 90% of the 13,250 HBCU veterans enrolled at HBCUs in the fall of 1950 (Gasman, 2007a; Guzman, Hall, & Jones, 1952; Jenkins, 1948). However, despite the boost given to African American men through the G.I. Bill, such educational privileges were unsustainable for a number of political, social, and primarily economic reasons (Gasman, 2007a; Thelin, 2004). Since the mid-1950s, African American female enrollment at HBCUs has continued to outpace that of African American male students (Hill, 1984; NCES, 2009; Provasnik et al., 2004). Although African American men enjoyed access to higher education through HBCUs initially and between 1953 and 1967 at many institutions, by the end of that period, Black women represented more than 50% of the Black student enrollment in bachelor’s degree-granting programs at HBCUs.


[39_15936.htm_g/00004.jpg]

Source: Bowles, F., & DeCosta, F. A. (1971). Between two worlds: A profile of Negro higher education. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Figure 3 presents data on African American undergraduate enrollment at HBCUs by gender between 1976 and 1994. Figure 4 presents enrollment data between 1995 and 2004. Overall, the data show that although total enrollment at HBCUs increased, African American male enrollment grew by only 5%, whereas African American female enrollment grew 25 times (Hoffman, Snyder, & Sonnenberg, 1996). Perhaps better stated, in 1980, 21,000 more Black women were enrolled at four-year HBCUs than Black men, yet by 2004, 45,000 more Black women were enrolled at HBCUs (Hoffman et al.; Provasnik et al., 2004). In sum, although African American women struggled to access higher education through HBCUs initially, they have clearly made significant strides, especially in comparison with their same-race male peers.


[39_15936.htm_g/00006.jpg]

Source: Hoffman, C. M., Snyder, T. D., & Sonnenberg, B. (1996). Historically Black colleges and universities, 1976–1994. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


[39_15936.htm_g/00008.jpg]

Source: IPEDS. (2007). Fall Enrollment Surveys. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE EXPERIENCES AT HBCUS


Though the enrollment data suggest that Black male students at HBCUs might face barriers to entry, a review of the literature on persistence and experiences suggests challenges in that realm as well. Early works on the experience of African American undergraduates suggests that Black males were more socially and academically engaged on HBCU rather than HWI campuses and compared with their same-race female peers at HBCUs (Allen, 1986, 1992; Berger & Milem, 2000; Cokley, 2001; Fleming, 1983, 1984; Gurin & Epps, 1975); however, this implication is not well substantiated. Methodologically, few studies focus specifically on African American male student experiences at HBCUs, although there are some recent exceptions (e.g., W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Palmer & Strayhorn; 2008; Riggins et al., 2008). Even still, these studies shed light on the experience of very few African American men at HBCUs through small qualitative studies, which may not serve as representative apart from relatively circumscribed contexts (i.e., on a single HBCU campus or among academically and demographically similar Black male students, for example).


In addition, the work that compares HBCUs and HWIs significantly underexamines differences in African American student experiences by gender, though this may be due to research designs that seek to justify HBCUs’ existence. In the few cases in which race and gender are supposed be considered, the focus is typically across HBCUs or HWIs, with little attention to the Black males within the HBCU samples (Allen, 1986, 1992; Allen & Haniff, 1991; Fleming, 1984). In fact, most research on gender at HBCUs can be summarized as research on Black women;, little to no analysis of Black male students is presented (e.g., Bonner, 2001; Gasman, 2007b; Harper et al., 2004; L. R. Jackson, 1998; K. W. Jackson & Swan, 1991).


With regard to the literature on engagement and experiences at HBCUs, there is a relatively underexamined but persistent undercurrent of research noting Black males’ difficulty developing academically and socially supportive relationships (Chavous et al., 2004; Fleming, 1984; Harper et al., 2004; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Palmer & Gasman, 2008). In addition, the findings that African American males spend less time on homework, studying, and planning for their academic futures (e.g., Harper et al.; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006) suggest that African American males’ low persistence rates at HBCUs could be improved in a number of realms (e.g., academic coaching or student development programming).


Supporting this notion, our review of extant persistence and graduation data at HBCUs shows that African American men lag significantly behind their same-race female peers (Geiger, 2006; NCES, 2009; Nettles & Perna, 1997). Disaggregation and analysis of IPEDS data by institution type and gender show that in 1976, the six-year graduation rate for African American males at HBCUs was approximately 41%—a rate that fell to approximately 35% by 2004 (NCES).


In addition, Table 2 presents the six-year graduation rates of African American students starting at four-year HBCUs in the fall of 1997, disaggregated by gender. The most obvious overall gender disparity is the number of institutions with relatively high six-year graduation rates for African Americans, those at or above 40%2; there are 31 institutions for Black women, and only 15 for Black men. With regard to African American men specifically, less than 50% of the 16,251 African American males who began college at HBCUs in 1997 had obtained a bachelor’s degree by 2002 (NCES, 2009). In fact, our analysis revealed that the 15 HBCUs that graduated 40% or more of their first-time, full-time African American male freshmen resulted in only 3,000 bachelor’s degrees (NCES).


Table 2. HBCUs With Six-Year Graduation Rates at or Above 40% for African American Men and Women

Institution Name

Men

Women

Public

% African Americanc

% Receiving federal aidd

Alabama A & M University

-

47%

Yes

79

57

Alcorn State University

42%

53%

Yes

95

63

Barber-Scotia College

62%

-

No

97

-

Bennett College for Women

-

56%

No

98

87

Bowie State University

-

46%

Yes

76

39

Claflin University

58%

75%

No

98

83

Dillard University

-

43%

No

99

75

Elizabeth City State University

49%

58%

Yes

74

70

Fayetteville State University

 

41%

Yes

64

61

Fisk University

56%

74%

No

99

53

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

-

54%

Yes

89

51

Florida Memorial University

-

69%

No

90

90

Fort Valley State University

-

42%

Yes

92

60

Grambling State University

-

42%

Yes

95

70

Hampton University

46%

59%

No

87

53

Howard University

49%

60%

No

86

29

Johnson C. Smith University

-

44%

No

99

75

Lincoln University of Pennsylvania

-

43%

Yes

92

49

Miles College

67%

76%

No

99

87

Mississippi Valley State University

53%

55%

Yes

98

84

Morehouse College

42%

-

No

99

36

Morgan State University

-

48%

Yes

94

60

Morris College

-

48%

No

99

72

North Carolina A & T State University

-

51%

Yes

87

53

North Carolina Central University

-

54%

Yes

82

63

Prairie View A & M University

-

43%

Yes

85

61

Saint Paul's College

-

41%

No

95

67

South Carolina State Universitya

41%

57%

Yes

93

63

Spelman College

-

77%

No

95

70

Tennessee State University

-

53%

Yes

68

28

Texas Southern University

-

44%

Yes

78

81

Tougaloo College

-

51%

No

99

66

Tuskegee University

-

54%

No

91

45

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

-

41%

Yes

99

90

University of Maryland-Eastern Shore

41%

47%

Yes

71

50

University of the Virgin Islands

-

53%

Yes

77

28

Virginia State University

-

43%

Yes

90

71

Voorhees Collegea, b

59%

50%

No

97

99

Winston-Salem State University

43%

51%

Yes

76

67

Xavier University of Louisianaa

43%

54%

No

88

87


Note. The dash (-) indicates that African Americans at these institutions did not graduate at a rate at or above 40% six-year cumulative graduation rates, or data were not available.


a Indicates only 5-year graduation rates were available.

b Indicates that the school lost accreditation.

c Indicates percentage of enrollment comprising African American students (NCES, 2009).

d Percentage of full-time, first-time students at the institution receiving federal grant aid (NCES, 2009).


DISCUSSION


Although HBCUs have played a significant role in enrolling and educating African American males, this gendered analysis reveals a number of issues based on research originating in education, sociology, psychology, and economics. The literature on African American students at HBCUs has consistently and severely neglected to account for gender differences in enrollment, experiences, and undergraduate degree completion for Black male and female students. The data indisputably show that African American males have been outnumbered by women among four-year HBCU undergraduates and bachelor’s degree recipients for many years.


Some of this gender disparity, however, may be attributed to curriculum and social forces acting on HBCUs and their Black students. For example, although the early focus of the HBCU curriculum may have favored Black male enrollment, the shift toward teacher education nationwide and within the Black community afforded Black women far greater opportunities for postsecondary education. In fact, a gender gap among HBCU students by academic field persists, especially when considering the gender distribution in many of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (see Hill & Green, 2007).


Of particular importance is the consideration of the economic, political, and social forces facing HBCUs and their African American male students. Although historically, these institutions educated a significant proportion of less affluent and/or first-generation college-going African Americans, this characterization requires additional qualification. In fact, though many four-year HBCUs continue to provide postsecondary access to these “nontraditional” groups (e.g., low-income students), there is evidence that some also serve second- and third-generation educated African American students who come from higher socioeconomic strata and have parents who received some postsecondary education (e.g., Freeman, 1999, 2005; Tobolowsky et al., 2005, Wilson 2007). In fact, Wilson presented a study on African American persistence and degree completion at HBCUs between 1970 and 2000 that identified significant demographic differences between earlier and more recent African American HBCU student samples. Although there is no consideration of gender in that particular analysis, our research suggests that consideration of gender with regard to HBCU matriculation may be warranted.


In fact, a well-developed body of literature on African American male students in the educational pipeline suggests that a gender lens must be considered in any analysis of Black educational experiences. At the elementary and secondary levels, African American male students have consistently lower academic achievement, self-concept, and educational expectations than their same-race female peers, even when controlling for neighborhood and family socioeconomic status at the elementary and secondary levels (Davis, Ajzen, Saunders, & Williams, 2002; Mello & Swanson, 2007; Mickelson & Greene, 2006; Saunders et al., 2004; Stewart, 2006). Although some critics have attributed these differences to oppositional culture theory, also known as “acting White” (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986), Lundy and Firebaugh (2005) suggested that Black male underachievement should be characterized more as a function of gender than race.


In addition, the lack of goal orientation noted by African American males at HBCUs (e.g., Harper et al., 2004; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006) may be explained by research on low teacher and parental expectations at the elementary and secondary levels (Delpit, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 2001; Love & Kruger, 2005; Maton et al., 1998; Smith & Fleming, 2006). Though there is little empirical work connecting the K–12 and higher education research on educational expectations and student outcomes, the research presented here suggests this line of reasoning as logical.


Along other lines, Hubbard’s (2005) study of gendered attitudes and beliefs about education suggest that African American male peer academic support (or lack thereof) may also negatively contribute to underachievement. Taken altogether, this research suggests that prior to graduating from high school, Black male students face numerous psychosocial barriers that affect academic achievement and likely challenge postsecondary matriculation and persistence at HBCUs. In more economic terms, African American males appear to struggle to develop and sustain both human and social capital more so than their same-race female peers throughout the educational pipeline, and even at HBCUs (J. M. Constantine & Perna, 2001; Gordon et al., 1994; Heggins, 2004; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Loury, 2004; Mandara, 2006; Stinson, 2006). In sum, this research suggests that “gender is not peripheral . . . [therefore we] cannot . . . hope to understand the academic achievement of African American youth unless we take students’ racial and gendered experiences into account” (Hubbard, p. 616). The contextualization of gender differences in African American student educational experiences and achievement prior to college suggests that acknowledgement at the postsecondary level and within HBCUs is especially necessary.


Although it seems reasonable to consider Black males’ accrual of disadvantage throughout the educational pipeline and in terms of HBCU enrollment, the persistence and graduation rate data further suggest that a gendered approach to HBCU research is warranted. A review of Table 2 presents two noteworthy observations about HBCUs and their role in promoting student success. First, among the 15 institutions with African American male graduation rates above 40%, 9 are private. Among the HBCUs, private institutions remain a significant source of access to higher education for African American males (Drewry et al., 2001; NCES, 2009). In addition, although the six public HBCUs in Table 2 are also successful in promoting high six-year graduation rates of African American males, their growing non-Black student body populations give cause for further scholarly and policy-oriented scrutiny, especially with consideration of institutional mission and Black postsecondary access and success. Another important consideration is the difference in Black male and female precollege preparation and characteristics.


Second, of the five institutions with highest African American male graduation rates, three have undergraduate populations that are among the most financially needy (as measured by proportion of the population eligible for Pell Grants). This suggests that institutions with a range of institutional characteristics (e.g., selectivity, size, sector, student body socioeconomic status, and endowment) can, and in fact do, promote African American male persistence to bachelor’s degree completion. If a range of institutions can promote achievement, then those with more selective admissions criteria, higher endowments, and fewer low-income students—whether HBCU or HWI—may want to reevaluate their own persistence and graduation rates for African American male students. It may also inspire more public dialogue on higher education fiscal and programmatic accountability, especially with regard to performance budgeting and resource allocation.


Along these lines, our gender analysis of graduation rates for one cohort suggests that approximately 15% of the African American men who enroll in HBCUs complete their bachelor’s degrees at those institutions within six years.3 In fact, data for students entering in the fall of 1997 show that four-, five-, and six-year bachelor’s degree completion rates for African American males at HBCUs (11%, 22%, and 27%, respectively) are considerably lower than those for their same-race female peers (21%, 34%, and 40%, respectively). These raw data alone provide a rationale to examine the Black student experience at HBCUs within the context of gender.


Similarly, the notion that HBCUs are better educational environments for African American male and female student experiences and postsecondary persistence may be true for African Americans as a composite when compared to HWIs, yet simple descriptive statistics suggests otherwise for Black men. The lack of Black male representation on HBCU campuses and within extant HBCU research requires qualification by at least gender, though perhaps other factors like socioeconomic status may also be important (per Wilson, 2007). Along other lines, literature on research design suggests that selection bias and research design play a significant role in our current understanding of the African American male experience at HBCUs (Creswell, 2003). In the case of African American men at HBCUs and understanding their barriers, there are few substantive articles (e.g., W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Riggins et al., 2008), and even those represent distinctly circumscribed participant pools (i.e., high achievers, religiously oriented, underprepared at matriculation), thereby limiting the application of findings to the average African American male at a four-year HBCU. Furthermore, although many authors have specifically considered African American high achievers and their experiences (e.g., Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Griffin, 2006; Harper & Quaye, 2008; Palmer & Gasman), this research only sheds light on one perspective of African American men in higher education overall or in HBCUs, which may or may not be the norm.


Along other lines, embedded within the assumption that HBCUs are better for African American students rests an implication that cultural familiarity among African American students, faculty, and staff promotes success, which is problematic for at least two reasons. First, although HBCUs, on average, have more faculty, administrators, and staff from African American and other diverse backgrounds, and these characteristics are often noted as being critical to creating climates of success for African American men (and other marginalized groups), postsecondary persistence theories (as noted in Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) and research (e.g., Howard-Hamilton, 1997; W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006) have yet to provide a causal link between African American postsecondary success (or failure) and HBCUs. Second, the implication of cultural sameness essentializes the notion of being African American. Among others, issues of gender, skin tone, ethnicity, sexuality, country of origin, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood composition pervade the African American community, in and outside HBCUs (Gasman & Tudico, 2008; Hill, 1984; Massey, Mooney, Torres, & Charles, 2006; Wilson, 2007). Therefore, suggesting that HBCUs are the best institutions for African American students primarily because of their history may result in an unfortunate oversimplification that hinders our understanding of barriers facing Black students.


Although this research has sought to highlight the omission of the Black male student experience at HBCUs, it is important to note that the barriers facing African American women at HBCUs are real and no less worthy of additional research. However, HBCU stakeholders must consider that although African American men may have dominated student life at one point (Allen, 1986, 1992; Fleming, 1983, 1984; Gurin & Epps, 1975) and have held more positions of leadership (Bonner, 2001; Gasman, 2007b; L. A. Williams, 1986), it is not clear whether or how this has influenced African American male HBCU undergraduate enrollment, experiences, or degree completion. By using a gender lens, scholars may uncover previously underexamined realities about the African American male student experience at HBCUs—an endeavor that may contribute to more effective outreach, retention, and postsecondary success.


Finally, it is important to note that HBCUs are not the only higher education stakeholders responsible for addressing the underachievement of African American males. Although not the focus of this research, HWI and HBCU graduation rates for African American males are more similar than the different (W. M. Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Nettles & Perna, 1997). As such, factors negatively (or positively) influencing African American male achievement and persistence in higher education may be prevalent within the educational pipeline leading to either institution type, particularly the issue of building supportive relationships that promote academic success. This suggests that the increase in visibility given to African American men undergraduates by many scholars (e.g., Sharon Fries Britt, Michael Cuyjet, Shaun Harper, and Terrell Strayhorn) is necessary but must expand to consider the HBCU context more fully.


CONCLUSION


Though a gender gap in enrollment and completion exists for all racial/ethnic groups in postsecondary education, the African American gender gap is by far the largest in terms of enrollment, persistence, and completion and is particularly wide at HBCUs (NCES, 2009). The lack of attention toward African American men at HBCUs appears to have silenced the gendered experience of African American males. Among other things, the omission of men in gendered analyses of Black college students on HBCU campuses perpetuates the lack of accountability for African American male underachievement that seems to permeate the entire higher education establishment.


The literature shows that HBCUs have afforded African American males a route by which to gain access to postsecondary education, a route that certainly was not always present. However, although that commitment is praiseworthy, the gender disparities in African American male and female enrollment, experiences, and completion at four-year HBCUs warrant comprehensive consideration by all education stakeholders. Besides Black male experiences at HBCUs, there are well-documented issues facing this demographic group related to academic motivation, expectations, and experiences that likely affect African American male students as they move through the education pipeline (Davis et al., 2002; Delpit, 1995; Gordon et al., 1994; Hall & Rowan, 2001; Harper, 2005; Heggins, 2004; Hubbard, 2005; Loury, 2004; Lundy & Firebaugh, 2005; Mandara, 2006; Mello & Swanson, 2007; Mickelson & Greene, 2006; Osborne, 1999; Saunders et al., 2004; Smith & Fleming, 2006; Stewart, 2006; Stinson, 2006). These, as well as other internal- and externally based factors affecting African American male educational experiences and achievement, must be considered more in postsecondary educational research, including that focusing on HBCUs.


In addition to highlighting the silencing of African American males at HBCUs, the findings also challenge the implication that HBCUs or African American students are monolithic. As the analysis of the fall 1997 cohort suggests, African American male rates of graduation at HBCUs range from well below to well above the national average of 56% (NCES, 2009). As the IPEDS (NCES, 2009) data show, the institutions highlighted in Table 2 are noticeably different in terms of student and institutional characteristics (e.g., percent female, percent non-Black, size, sector, selectivity), suggesting that four-year HBCUs and their students are diverse in more ways than one.


In terms of acknowledging success, Table 2 clearly highlights HBCUs that successfully promote African American male undergraduate degree completion (including Miles College, Barber-Scotia College, Claflin University, and the all-male Morehouse College). This supports Stanton-Salazar’s (1997) assertion that the role of individual institutions and institutional type on student outcomes should be considered to provide a comprehensive account of educational achievement and persistence. As evidenced by this research, the role of gender, ethnicity/race, and institution type are indeed underexamined with regard to African American male undergraduates at four-year HBCUs.


HBCUs have been immensely beneficial in the education of African American students at all levels, especially when compared with HWIs (e.g., Berger & Milem, 2000; Bohr et al., 1995; Cabrera & Nora, 1999; DeSousa & Kuh, 1996; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Garibaldi, 1991; Kim, 2004; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Perna, 2001; Provasnik et al., 2004). However, to continue their legacies of success and achievement, explicit incorporation of gender with attention to African American males is necessary. In fact, if HBCUs experienced even a small fraction of the growth in Black male participation and completion that they have seen with Black women in the past 50 years, many of these tuition-dependent institutions could educate an even more significant proportion of the African American population and perhaps even improve their own short- and long-term economic stability.


Beyond that, research on barriers facing African American male students at HBCUs could serve as a unique opportunity for HBCUs to model important higher education research and the subsequent development and implementation of effective interventions. Indeed, many institutions of higher education appear to face similar challenges with marginalized students (e.g., minority, low-income, first-generation, or remedial students). Part of the HBCU mystique is derived from their history of accepting the unacceptable and promoting success—it is time this slogan took on a more complete and explicit consideration of gender.


Notes


1. It should be noted that historical studies of HBCU leadership and institutions are, for the most part, male focused as well. See Gasman (2007b).

2. Institutional graduation rates at or above 40% were identified simply for the purpose of establishing a manageable comparison for African American women and men.

3. The authors want to note that this method of calculating graduation rates implies that most students who begin college at one institution graduate from that same institution, which may not be true, as noted by Peter and Forrest Cataldi (2005).


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 5, 2011, p. 934-968
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15936, Date Accessed: 5/19/2022 6:51:40 PM

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About the Author
  • Valerie Lundy-Wagner
    University of Pennsylvania
    VALERIE LUNDY-WAGNER is a PhD candidate in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania in the Graduate School of Education. Her research interests focus on bachelor’s degree completion, undergraduate success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and HBCUs. Ms. Lundy-Wagner is completing her dissertation to identify the how intersectionality (ethnicity/race × gender) affects likelihood of bachelor’s degree completion. She recently coauthored Perna, L. W., Lundy-Wagner, V. C., Drezner, N. D., Gasman, M., Yoon, S., Bose, E., & Gary, S. (2009). The contribution of HBCUs to the preparation of African American women for STEM careers: A case study. Research in Higher Education, 50(1), 1–23.
  • Marybeth Gasman
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    MARYBETH GASMAN is an associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania in the Graduate School of Education. Her areas of expertise include HBCUs, diversity and higher education, African American educational leadership, and fund-raising and philanthropy.
 
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