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What Colleges Are Doing To Bring Back Black And Latino Male Students

An image of a college student wearing a backpack pushing a door open.
College staffers are creating programs to keep Black and Latino men enrolled in higher education.
(LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash)
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California’s college enrollment overall dropped 5.3% in the spring 2021 semester, according to data released earlier this month by the National Student Clearinghouse. That’s the second highest college enrollment drop rate among the 50 states.

But one higher education researcher said there’s more troubling data in those numbers: Fewer Black and Latino men are staying enrolled.

“We're seeing anywhere from seven to 10% drops across the country," said Adrian Huerta, a University of Southern California education researcher. "Recent numbers have climbed up to 15% for men of color."

The dropout rate among female students of color is significantly lower, Huerta said. He analyzed the recent data and said college administrators should see the male dropout rates as a red flag, one that should prompt them to examine their particular campuses’ dropout rates among Black and Latino male students.

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“It's really tragic that we've lost so many men of color. And as I've heard from colleagues throughout California, they've seen drops in their institutions of anywhere from 15 to 20% for men of color specifically,” he said.

It's really tragic that we've lost so many men of color.
— Adrian Huerta, education researcher

What The Data Shows

There was already reason for concern before the pandemic. Data showed that Black and Latino males were enrolling in college and earning their degrees at lower rates than women in those two groups.

The latest college dropout data come as California’s non-white population rises to nearly two thirds of the state’s population overall, and higher education administrators work to increase the percentage of Californians with a college degree.

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Instagram posting for the Cal State Northridge men of color mental health counseling group called "Man Up."
Cal State Northridge holds a men of color mental health counseling group called "Man Up."
Courtesy CSU Northridge)

The data has prompted some college administrators to act during the summer months, as they prepare for the fall semester, to try to bring back some of the Black and Latino male students who have dropped out and keep the ones struggling to stay enrolled.

The Pandemic Pushes College To The Fringe Of Priorities

As hospitalizations and job losses during the pandemic pushed families to their limits, many students chose to drop their studies entirely.

“Some students also had to find work, because they weren't able to afford supporting the families, as well as going to school,” said Nohel Corral, interim vice president of Student Services at Long Beach City College.

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The campus is 59% Latino and 10% Black. During the 2020-2021 academic year there was an 8.8% decline in enrollment among Latino students, and a 7.2% drop among Black students, Corral said.

But separating out the numbers by gender tells another story. Latino male students dropped out at a percentage three times as high as Latina students (14.5% to 4.6%). The percentage of Black male students who dropped out was about double what it was for Black female students (10.7% to 4.9%).

We find that students, specifically males of color, have a hard time asking for help.
— Nohel Corral, interim vice president, Long Beach City College

“When I look at these numbers,” Corral said, “I think, ‘Who are the groups that are most impacted by this pandemic?’ And it's clear that it's our Black and Brown students, specifically Black and Brown men.”

About a year ago, Corral said, Long Beach City College created a Male Success Initiative to help students find support.

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“We find that students, specifically males of color, have a hard time asking for help, have a hard time navigating college and knowing what services are available for them,” Corral said.

The program attempts to build those skills by targeting a group of 30 students who commit to participating in mentoring and other support activities. The college hired 20 part-time faculty this summer, Corral said, to reach out to students who’ve dropped out. Once students are reached by phone, text, or email, the push will be not only to persuade them to enroll in classes this fall, but also to describe what campus programs can help them with academics, financial aid, or basic needs.

“So that once they return, they don't feel like they're alone,” Corral said.

Mostly African American Glendale College students and staff pose during learning communities gathering.
Glendale College Students pose during "learning communities" gathering.
Courtesy Glendale College)

Students Are More And Less Connected Through Zoom

Distance learning during the pandemic has broken a person-to-person connection that kept many students enrolled.

“When you're at home,” said Pasadena City College student Jaime Garcialira, “no one's really there other than yourself and your immediate family, whoever you live with, that can really tell you like, alright just keep pushing.”

Learning through a platform like Zoom can be isolating, but for some campus mental health counselors, the platform has been an important tool to reach students and help them.

“I've seen the value of this Zoom in relation to accessibility,” said California State University Northridge mental health counselor Abram Milton, meaning that students who “maybe because of distance, because of transportation limitations, where they couldn't make face to face events, but could make some of these Zoom or remote things” can now access services, he said.

Before the pandemic, participation in a counseling support group for men of color at CSUN called “Man Up” dwindled to just a couple of students for the weekly sessions.

“We know with students, especially men of color,” Milton said, “trying to go into a mental health realm and say ‘I'm going to be vulnerable,’ we know how sometimes it can be a challenge.”

If they're not doing well in school or if they're thinking about dropping out, it's our job to go out there and reach out to them to keep them engaged.
— Alexandra Evans, counselor at Glendale College

But his case load among male students of color seeking counseling services during the pandemic has doubled. Milton said this student population is more likely to seek counseling services over Zoom than walking into the mental health office on campus.

A different support group, not organized by the campus mental health services, has had better attendance than the “Man Up” group. It’s called “Barbershop Talk,” and about ten Black male students attend over Zoom. The conversation often gravitates toward solutions to academic, financial, and even personal relationship problems.

Many college administrators feel that the data showing the struggles of Black and Latino students should compel college administrators to take action, instead of waiting for those students to ask for help.

“If they're not doing well in school, or if they're thinking about dropping out,” said Glendale College counselor Alexandra Evans, “it's our job to go out there and reach out to them to keep them engaged.”

Glendale College will remain online in the fall. Evans said the college’s three “learning communities” attempt to build connections between students, college employees, and programs. These three learning communities are Black Scholars, La Comunidad, and Guardian Scholars, the latter for current or former foster youth.

And this fall, Glendale College is adding another activity: a one-on-one mentoring program that’ll pair students from these learning communities with faculty and staff. The goal is to help them feel supported so that they can find the help they need to stay on track and earn their degree.