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Aptitude vs. Academic Knowledge: December 30, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in aptitude, race, SAT, SAT II.
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The following piece from the most recent edition of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education raises some interesting questions about the relationship between race and so-called aptitude testing, versus race and subject-based testing. I plan to revisit this issue in a future post, but for now, I’d like to share with you the newsbrief as it appeared on the JBHE website. I’ve highlighted what I felt were the most provocative portions of the essay in bold type. 

“Black-White Score Differences on Particular SAT II Subject Tests”

–From the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, December 28, 2007

SAT II subject tests are largely used by students who are applying to the nation’s selective colleges and universities. This past year showed a modest increase in the number of blacks taking these tests. Although the increased number of black students taking the tests is a good sign, there remains a large and growing racial scoring gap.

Of all the widely taken SAT II tests in 2007, the black-white racial scoring gap of 108 points, or approximately 18 percent, was the greatest on the world history test. There were also large racial gaps on both mathematics tests, English literature, and American history tests.

College-bound black students generally fared well in comparison with the scores of white students on foreign-language examinations. The black-white scoring gap was only 36 points on the Latin test and 37 points on the French test. On the Chinese test, black students actually scored 77 points higher on average than whites. But only 19 blacks and 97 whites took the test, making racial score comparisons statistically insignificant. The 19 black students who took the Chinese SAT II test had a remarkable mean score of 734. Blacks also had a higher mean score than whites on the Korean language test, but only six African-American students took the test in 2007.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Black on Campus Hall of Shame 2007 December 30, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Students, Black Colleges, Black Students, Boston University, Community College, Current Events, Fisk University, Georgia O'Keefe, race, racism.

On balance, it has been a good year for Black people on America’s college and university campuses. This banner year for Black progress in higher ed owes no thanks, however, to the individuals, organizations, and institutions on the following list. Fellow free to nod in disbelief as you give a Hall Shame salute to these 2007 inductees:

1)Boston University — Singled out because, although the population of the city of Boston is now 25 percent African American, Black people make up only 2.6 percent of the BU student body. These numbers are even more disappointing when considered in light of the fact that although Black applicants to Boston U have increased by 39 percent over the last 10 years (in fact, “between 2004 and 2005, [B]lack applicants increased by 18 percent”), the percentage of Black students enrolled at BU has remained constant. Source: JBHE

2)California Community Colleges — Singled out because, according to a summer 2007 report in The Washington Post, only about 25% of those California community college students seeking a certificate, associate’s degree, or transfer to a four-year school succeed in reaching their goal within six years of enrolling. The Post adds that the success rate is even lower for  Black and Latin American students.

How much lower? Well, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports that, “for black students seeking a degree at a California community college, only 15 percent earn an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year college or university.” JBHE goes on to explain the importantance of this statistic, adding that, “one of every 14 African Americans who are enrolled in higher education [in the U.S.] today attends a California community college” (emphasis mine), and, “one of every seven black community college students in the United States is enrolled in a state-operated community college in California.”   Sources: Washington Post and JBHE

3)The University of Virginia Cavalier Daily — Singled out because early in the fall 2007 semester, the UVA Cavalier Daily published two racially offensive cartoons created by Virginia senior Grant Woolard. The cartoons were printed only a few days apart and provoked accusations of racism from Black readers on the UVA campus and beyond.

The first cartoon was published on August 31, 2007, and mocked the controversial sexual relationship between UVA founder Thomas Jefferson and his enslaved teenage mistress.


The second cartoon appeared on September 4, and seemed to mock the very real legacy of famine in Ethiopia, depicting loincloth-clad Black people fighting each other with inanimate household objects.

When asked about the choice to print the “Ethiopian Food Fight” cartoon, Cavalier editor-in-chief Herb Ladley responded that, “my initial reaction was, ‘This is offensive.’ But we print a lot of offensive things. The instant the public raised a question about it, we realized it was a mistake.” On September 9th, the managing board of the paper voted to fire cartoonist Woolard. Reflecting on the way that his Ethiopian cartoon was received, Woolard was philosophical, saying, “I will admit that I really lacked the foresight in anticipating the reaction. I should have thought that they were going to think I was portraying Africans as savage and misshapen.”

4)Presidential Candidates Fred Thompson,  Rudy Giuliani,  Mitt Romney, and Sen. John McCain — Singled out because these four candidates snubbed a PBS-sponsored Republican presidential debate, held on the historically Black campus of Morgan State University. Each cited scheduling conflicts, despite being notified of this event well in advance of the official date. Source: Washington Post

5) Fisk University — Singled out because the current financial crisis at this pioneering institution (alma mater of Nikki Giovanni, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Judith Jamison, Hazel O’Leary, Johnetta B. Cole, and numerous other African American leaders and innovators) suggests strongly and tragically that too few within its current and recent leadership truly cherish and appreciate the immeasurable value of this historically Black university. Fisk University is also singled out because it’s most recent solution to its persistent financial woes (to attempt to sell off a substantial portion of it’s stake in a valuable art collection donated by the late Georgia O’Keefe) underscores the gulf between the high regard in which Fisk has long been held by many outside of the university (including Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz) and the apparent apathy of that handful of figures within within the institution who have overseen its financial decline. Source: NewsChannel5.com

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Division I Football: Of Coaches, Classrooms, and Cash December 22, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in 746, big time sports, Black athletes, Division I, Football, Football scholarships, Higher Education, NCAA.
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“In 2005, the 121 Division 1-A football teams generated $1.8 billion for their colleges. “Source: Michael Lewis NY Times writer/reporter

New York Times sportswriter and commentator Michael Lewis breathes new life into the metaphor of big time college sports as a modern-day plantation in his November 11, 2007 Op-Ed piece, “Serfs of the Turf .” 

In it Lewis points out the significant disparity between the big money that college football (particularly, Division I-A college football) generates and the modest compensation received by players (scholarships, free uniforms, travel to out-of-town games). In the past, I have dismissed arguments that big-time college sports athletes deserve to be paid. My resistance to this notion is largely based on my belief that colleges should not value one form of talent over another; the gifted student musicians who populate the University of Michigan Orchestra, for example, should be valued no less than the gifted student athletes who play on UM’s football and basketball teams. In his recent Times article, however, Michael Lewis just might have changed my mind.

Here is the crux of Lewis’s argument:

College football’s best trick play is its pretense that it has nothing to do with money, that it’s simply an extension of the university’s mission to educate its students. Were the public to view college football as mainly a business, it might start asking questions. For instance: why are these enterprises that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with profits exempt from paying taxes? Or why don’t they pay their employees?

This is maybe the oddest aspect of the college football business. Everyone associated with it is getting rich except the people whose labor creates the value. At this moment there are thousands of big-time college football players, many of whom are black and poor. They perform for the intense pleasure of millions of rabid college football fans, many of whom are rich and white. The world’s most enthusiastic racially integrated marketplace is waiting to happen [emphasis mine].

For Lewis, college football — or, at least, “big-time” college football — finds itself far removed from its early function as a gladitorial, school – spirit – generating gentlemen’s game. In the 21st century, big-time college football is still gladitorial, and it still generates school spirit; but it’s most important byproduct is money.

My interest has always been primarily in the fate of the Black male athlete, and I have generally believed that, for this population, the revenue to the school vs. rewards to the athlete was a trade-off. Black college athletes in big college sports generated funds for the school, and they got a fully-funded college degree, in return. A free education was, in my estimation, sufficient compensation. After all, I thought, far too many young pros are forced out of the NFL with broken bodies and no college degrees to fall back on. I was not, however, thinking about those young men who are forced out of college football with broken bodies and barely a year or two of remedial college courses under their belts. Nor was I thinking about the high attrition rate among Black football players in big time sports, half of whom leave school before earning their bachelor’s degrees.

The most striking passage in Lewis’s piece is his discussion of the role of the NCAA in maintaining this complex and dysfunctional relationship between big time football’s highly – paid coaches and athletic directors, the largely middle- and upper-class (and largely white) fans who pack college stadiums, and the uncompensated (disproportionately Black) players. In the following passage Lewis unpacks this disturbing relationship, characterizing the universities as sellers, and the fans as buyers :

[B]etween buyer and seller sits the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to ensure that the universities it polices keep all the money for themselves — to make sure that the rich white folk do not slip so much as a free chicken sandwich under the table to the poor black kids. The poor black kids put up with it because they find it all but impossible to pursue N.F.L. careers unless they play at least three years in college. Less than one percent actually sign professional football contracts and, of those, an infinitesimal fraction ever make serious money. But their hope is eternal, and their ignorance exploitable.

Lewis reminds us that the NCAA allows this unequal relationship based on the notion that colleges are educational institutions, not businesses; and to compensate players beyond the limit of the athletic scholarship would commercialize college sports to a dangerous degree. To that he responds, “College football already is commercialized, for everyone except the people who play it,” and, “If the N.C.A.A. genuinely wanted to take the money out of college football it’d make the tickets free and broadcast the games on public television and set limits on how much universities could pay head coaches.”

The NCAA that Lewis portrays, however, is comfortable with the status quo. As long as the money goes to the coaches, the athletic directors, and the university coffers, a little commercialization (or, in the case of big-time sports powers like Ohio State University and the University of Florida,  a lot of commercialization) of college football is perfectly acceptable. It is only when the players themselves might benefit from the fruits of their labors that the big time football money train comes screeching to a halt. Lewis explains:

the N.C.A.A. confines its anti-market strictures to the players — and God help the interior lineman who is caught breaking them. Each year some player who grew up with nothing is tempted by a booster’s offer of a car, or some cash, and is never heard from again.

The solution — or at least the beginning of the solution — according to Lewis is for all of the parties involved in big time college sports to “get real.” There is pernicious lie, he explains, that exists at the foudation of college football, and this lie enables the current unfair distribution of football-generated wealth to persist:

The lie … goes something like this: serious college football players go to college for some reason other than to play football. These marvelous athletes who take the field on Saturdays and generate millions for their colleges are students first, and football players second. They are like Franciscan monks set down in the gold mine. Yes, they play football, but they have no interest in the money. What they’re really living for is that degree in criminology.

There is so much truth in Lewis’s commentary — and on so many topics — that I could post and respond a great length to each of his major and minor assertions. He does, for example, address the dramatic and much storied academic underachievement of the largely African American big-time football population, reminding us that there are more complicated reasons for the academic failure of these players than a simple lack of brainpower: “It’s not that football players are too stupid to learn. It’s that they’re too busy. Unlike the other student on campus, they have full-time jobs: playing football for nothing.”

In the end, though, all of Lewis’s insightful and at times biting commentary on big time college football is a wake-up call. College football at Williams or Cornell, at Oberlin or Pomona is a labor of love, with players remaining on the squad because they want to (such institutions do not offer football scholarships and players who quite the team see no change in their financial aid status); and for the fans as such insitution, football is both a curiousity and a school-spirit-building source of reverse-pride (“our football team is so bad, you know that the education here must be good”). College football at the Division I-A institutions, on the other hand, is a high-stakes commercial venture whose success or failure in a given years has significant implications not only for the emotional stakeholders (the fans), but for the financial stakeholders, as well.

Until players receive real compensation for their work — in the form either salary payments or, more palatably, in the form of support for their often gravely impoverished families — it will rarely rise above its current status as the worst kind of gladiatorial spectacle — the game itself strategically compelling, and often athletically beautiful, but economically primitive and brutish–  in which the wealthy fans, partisans of one institution or another, enlist disadvantaged and often disenfranchised mercenaries — the poor Black player from the inner city, the financially strapped white player from the rural midwest — to fight their battles for them, to take their hits for them, to risk health, well-being, and the opportunity for real education all in order to earn bragging rights for those legions of rabid enthusiasts.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Is Obama Good for Black Higher Education? December 22, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Affirmative Action, Black Students, Current Events, Financial Aid, Higher Education, Obama, race.
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Sen. Barack Obama receiving an honorary doctorate from historically Black Xavier University in New Orleans

If I had to come up with a single phrase to characterize Barack Obama’s position on Black higher education, it would be social justice/anti-poverty.

Higher education is rarely a major issue in presidential campaigns, largely because the 18 to 24 set does not vote in the numbers that other constituencies do. Hence the stampede on the part of candidates eager to weigh in on medicare, even as they virtually ignore issues like financial aid and standardized college admission tests.

Still, Barack Obama’s website does state an official stance on this subject; and recent comments during an interview with George Stephanopoulos lend clarity to his beliefs surrounding affirmative action.

Obama’s official position on higher education, stated on his campaign website BarackObama.com, steers clear of any mention of affirmative action. He is, after all, attempting to gain the support of a broad cross section of Americans, and not just Black people. Still, his policy statement on higher ed advocates an expansion of opportunity that would benefit African Americans and other marginalized groups, disporportionately.

Obama’s higher ed policy emphasizes increases opportunity to poor and working class youth and their families, with an emphasis on making college more affordable for a wider range of Americans. His position statement advocates, “increasing the maximum Pell Grant from the existing limit of $4,050 to a new maximum of $5,100,” and it reminds visitors that, “Senator Obama has worked in a bipartisan way on the Senate HELP Committee to propose an increase in the Pell Grant to $5,400 over the next few years.”

His policy also seizes upon one of the most widely reported on innovations in college financial aid policy (and an approach that I strongly support), the replacement of college loan aid with grant aid. Obama would like to see more colleges shift from the FFEL loan program to less costly Direct Student Loan program, and then to reinvest the resulting savings in scholarship aid to needy undergraduates. His policy statement on this subject reminds visitors that, “Barack Obama cosponsored Senator Kennedy’s Student Debt Relief Act, which encourages colleges to participate in the Direct Loan program and use the savings to invest in grant aid to students.”

Like his official position statements on higher education policy, Obama’s unofficial — but on-the-record — comments about affirmative action echo the emphasis on widening access to post-secondary education in order to provide opportunity to more young people from poor and working-class families.

In a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos, Obama agreed with the assertion that the candidate is a “strong supporter of affirmative action.” Obama’s response to Stephanopoulos’s question about whether the candidate’s daughters — economically privileged and with highly educated parents — should benefit from affirmative action invoked a concept rarely discussed on television news, the notion of intersectionality/multiple identities. Here’s an excerpt from their exchange on this subject:

Stephanopoulos: And you’re a constitutional law professor so let’s go back in the classroom…..I’m your student. I say Professor, you and your wife went to Harvard Law School. Got plenty of money, you’re running for president. Why should your daughters when they go to college get affirmative action?

Obama: Well, first of all, I think that my daughters should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged, and I think that there’s nothing wrong with us taking that into account as we consider admissions policies at universities. I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed. So I don’t think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I think what we can say is that in our society race and class still intersect, that there are a lot of African American kids who are still struggling, that even those who are in the middle class may be first generation as opposed to fifth or sixth generation college attendees, and that we all have an interest in bringing as many people together to help build this country. — as published on Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog

In responding to Stephanopoulos, Obama re-presents affirmative action  as a net gain for America, as opposed to its usually portrayal as a net loss for white people and Asian Americans. In the above statement, affirmative action becomes less a racialized entitlement than a process by which admission officers take into account the disadvantages that have shaped an applicant’s march toward college education, whether that disadvantage race-based or class-based, but also in those cases in which a student’s perceived privilege in one area intersects with his or her disadvantage in another.

Of course, Obama did not invent this approach to college admissions. Indeed, in providing this answer to Stephanopoulos he is truly showing the imprint of his Ivy League pedigree, in that he is simply articulating the admission process already at work on many highly selective campuses. The big secret of private, selective college admission is that working class and poor white applicants do receive special consideration, and affluent Black children of highly-educated parents are evaluated in a process that takes into account both their racial marginalization and their economic privilege.

So, back to the question posed in the title of this post: Is Obama Good for Black Higher Education? I supposed that the best way to answer this question would be to return to the language of net gain and net loss. If Obama’s vision of affirmative action is employed across the board, at public and private selective institutions, and if Obama’s policies on financial aid are put into practice, African Americans and other marginalized ethnic and class groups would benefit. In other words, Black people would experience a net gain in opportunity.

Still, his vision of higher education opportunity offers nothing to address many of the isses that are specific to Black people’s pursuit of post-secondary degrees. Obama fails to address the most dramatic issues effecting African Americans, the disappearance of the descendants of U.S. Black slaves from selective college campuses (and, for that matter, from M.D. and Ph.D. programs, as well), the growing gender gap between Black men and women on U.S. campuses, and the financial crises that jeopardize way too many HBCUs.

I do not, however, completely fault Obama for failing to address these issues. Indeed, a major reason his opinions on these topics have not been widely circulated is because he has not been asked. Why? Because few of the people asking questions of the candidates and getting official, on-the-record statements from them are people of African descent.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

My Companion Site Changes Format (twilightandreason.com) December 21, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Black Faculty, Black History, Black Students, Timeline, Twilight and Reason.

Twilight and Reason: Higher Education and the African American Experience has changed! Twilightandreason.com is the companion site to this blog. I’ve shifted the direction of that website from its broad focus on news, opinion, and history, to a more specific emphasis on two areas:

  • A Links Page, with a growing list of hyperlinks to Black student and faculty organizations, Black history pages, Black alumni groups, and other related sites. 

To get to the new and improved Twilight and Reason website, click on one of the links highlighted above.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Racist Graffiti Strikes Fear Among Black Students at Northern Illinois December 15, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Students, Black Students, Current Events, Higher Education, NIU, Northern Illinois University, racism.
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On December 14, 2007 Eurweb.com reported that administrators at Northern Illinois University (NIU) have taken actions to ensure the safety of its students following an incident in which racist graffiti was found on the bathroom wall of a campus residence hall. The graffiti used a racial slur to describe African American students and made a reference to the Virginia Tech shootings.

Eurweb describes the content of the graffiti as follows:       

One of the text-message-style rants scribbled on the wall read: “Tell those n*****s to go home.” Another read: “The VA tech shooters messed up w/ having only one shooter….”   

As a precaution, NIU officials cancelled classes on the Monday after the graffiti was found. Classes resumed the next day. Still, many students remain frightened by the messages’ implied threat:

Although the school has forged forward with a business-as-usual approach, many of NIU’s black students – which compose nearly 13 percent of the university’s 18,816 undergraduates – remain uneasy about the incident. School officials estimate that some 200 students have left campus, many heading home.  

Some African American students have linked the sentiment in the scrawled words to a larger climate of racial intolerance on the NIU campus. Here is the way it was expressed by one of the Black student leaders at the University:

“This threat did not come out of the blue,” said Mitchell Gaddis, president of the university’s NAACP chapter. “It’s unsafe for us to walk down Greek Row … and we’re tired of it.”

For the full text of the Eurweb.com article, click HERE

Posted by Ajuan Mance

What People Are Saying: About the Gender Achievement Gap December 15, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Achivement Gap, Black boys, Black men, Black Students, gender gap, Higher Education, Ivy League.
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As a follow-up to my previous post about the Black male/Black female gender gap at Cornell university, I decided to educate myself a little bit more on past and present concensus on this issue, its causes and its solutions.

Here’s are a few of the opinions that — whether I agreed with the substance of the argument or not — I certainly found most intriguing:

 …at all eight Ivy League institutions today, black women outnumber black men…The black gender gap is smallest at Cornell…The growing presence of black women on the campuses of the Ivy League institutions has far-reachign implications for black men as a whole. If black women are increasingly winning places at the nation’s most selective undergraduate colleges, it is reasonable to assume that these women will be selected for the nation’s top graduate schools and recruited as well for the top jobs int he corporate sector. Nationwide, black women who are college graduates already have median earnings greater than those of white women college graduates, whereas educationally qualified black men are still far behind white men.

— “The African-American Gender Gap in Ivy League Enrollments,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Summer 1995 

…among well-educated, professional black women — a group that is growing rapidly — the [gender] gap is a chasm. Surely, that progress for black women is good news that shouldn’t be overlooked. However, as black women advance, black men a falling even further behind…In fact, the most successful a black woman becomes, the more likely she will end up alone, Walter Farrell, a University of North Carolina professor, said in a March 2002 Washington Monthly article. As a result, professional black women are having fewer children, ,eamomg that a growing percentage of black children are being born into less educated, less affluent families.

— Salim Muwakkil, “The Gender Gap in the African-American Community,” on the Modern Tribalist blog, June 16, 2005

[African American graduate student] Chris Catching says that African-American men are being left behind.

A doctoral student in education at Rutgers University, he doesn’t think higher education knows what to do with black men. So he wants to show them. He’s studying his fellow students and learning why they are staying in school.

“So much of the research focuses on the pathological,” Catching said. Instead, they should find out what works, he added.

Catching, the Rutgers doctoral student, said African-American men who succeed in college share many characteristics. In particular, he said, they all had several mentors who have helped them.

“Some of the key things have been mentors at all levels of their life, mentors in their community, parental support and sensitivity on behalf of educators,” Catching said. “Those mentors help you get through those roadblocks.” He said mentors helped him graduate from Montclair State University in 1999.

— Paul H. Johnson, “The Growing Gender Gap,” in The Easterner, March 1, 2006

 I led a research team in a five-year study of a nationally representative inner-city, predominantly black high school…

 What we discovered surprised us.

Contrary to popular belief, these youth had very high self-esteem. Although it is a common myth that black youth are likely to have low self-esteem, studies in the last few decades have shown them to feel just as good, if not better, about themselves and as self-confident, in general, as white youth.

However, what we did find was that black boys, relative to black girls, thought themselves less capable academically and didn’t feel confident about their ability to read and write and do schoolwork. They scored lower on academic self-efficacy — what we might call academic self-esteem.

By contrast, the girls had more favorable attitudes toward the academic process. They also felt they had more social support — that people around them thought it was important that they graduate and expected them to graduate.

To complete each school year, the boys also needed to believe that school would pay off in the long run. The black boys seemed to be saying, “Show me the money.”

— Larry E. Davis, “A Gender Gap in Black and White: Explaining Why African-American Boys Lag in School — and Deciding What to Do About It,” in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, July 29, 2003

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Relieving Student Debt Should Trump Merit Scholarships December 15, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Students, Black Colleges, Current Events, Financial Aid, HBCUs, Higher Education.
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In an interview last year, Dalton Conley, director of NYU’s Center for Advanced Social Science Research, compared two hypothetical kids — one from a family with some money and the other from poor parents. Both are born with the same level of intelligence, both are ambitious and both work hard in school. In a meritocracy, the two would enjoy the same opportunity to get ahead. But the fact that one might graduate from college free and clear while the other is burdened with $50,000 in debt makes a huge difference in terms of their long-term earnings prospects.– From Alternet.com, “The American Dream is Alive and Well … in Finland!” By Joshua Holland, posted on December 11, 2007

Student loan debt matters. Conventional financial wisdom holds that student loan debt is one of only a few instances of “good debt.” Like a mortgage, the student loan represents and investment that is likely to pay off in the long run. But sometimes college debt can be too much of a good thing.

If Joshua Holland is correct in his assertion that heavy student debt can have a long-term impact on graduates’ earning power, then one of the best investments a college can make is to channel its scholarship funds into debt relief. Several colleges and universities have already taken this approach, supplanting what would traditionally have been the loan portion of their high-need students’ financial aid packages with additional grants. Some colleges have even extended this loan relief to a portion of its middle-class enrollees.

For colleges this makes good sense. For one thing, it removes financial strife as a possible retention issue. In addition, in boosting the potential earning power of graduates– by removing the debt burden — the college is investing in its own long-term future, as alumni with higher earning power are more likely to support their institutions financially in the future.

For HBCUs, many of whose students graduate with significant student debt, this would be an especially wise move. Many of the nation’s HBCUs report disturbingly low levels of alumni contributions, a fact that no doubt contributes to the financial strife experienced by so many of these institutions. Strong financial support from alumni builds strong endowments, and swapping 50,000 dollars in loans for 50,000 in scholarship funds during at students’ undergraduate years could mean a return of 4 to 5 times that amount in future donations.

Not surprisingly, it has been those institutions with the strongest endowments and the highest levels of alumni contribution that have taken the lead in eliminating student loan debt, Harvard and Princeton among them. In the end, however, It will be those schools with the lowest levels of alumni contribution and the least secure financial profiles that will gain the most from instituting these enhanced aid programs. A focus on eliminating student debt will transform the opportunities availble to graduates from HBCUs and other institutions that serve economically diverse student populations.

Without the burden of substantial loan payments, such students will have the opportunity to buy homes earlier, begin investing earlier, and even to enroll in non-funded (and income boosting) graduate programs much earlier than their loan-free counterparts. Institutions that replace loan aid with grant aid could reap the benefits of their graduates’ increased economic opportunity for many decades to come.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

If Top of the Class Means Upper Middle Class… December 14, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Achivement Gap, African American Students, Black Colleges, Current Events, Florida A&M University, HBCUs, Higher Education, income gap, Ivy League, Lincoln University, North Carolina A&T, SAT, Scholarships, Spelman College.
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… then who benefits when HBCUs use their scholarship dollars to lure top Black SAT scorers to their campuses.

Consider, for example, the Lewis and Elizabeth Dowdy Scholars program at North Carolina A&T. Spearheaded by A&T chancellor Stanley F. Battle,  this program, aimed at drawing a greater proportion of Black academic stars, raises some interesting and important questions  about the most effective and ethical use of scholarship funds.

In an effort to replicate the success of Florida A&M University (FAMU), which made headlines back in 1997 years ago for 73 of the nation’s highest scoring Black SAT takers to its Tallahassee campus. Much attention was lavished on FAMU’s recruitment strategy, which combined individualized attention (often from upper-level administrators) with generous scholarship offers.

Though FAMU has fallen on difficult times of late, its continued success in enrolling and graduating high-achieving Black students has not gone unnoticed by its fellow HBCUs. North Carolina A&T’s Dowdy Scholarships are intended to bring elements of its Florida rivals’ recruitment strategy to its own admissions process.

Here is a brief summary of the Dowdy Scholarships award classifications:

  • Students with a GPA of 3.75 and higher, combined with an SAT score of at least 1200 may earn 100% tuition scholarship.
  • Students with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.749, combined with an SAT score between 1100 and 1200 may earn a 75% tuition scholarship.
  • Students with a GPA between 3.25 and 3.49, combined with an SAT score between 1000 and 1099, may earn a 50% scholarship.

(Source: Newscholarships.org)

According to Newscholarships.org, the Dowdy Scholarships are backed by a $1.6 million dollar fund.

Here’s the question: Who wins and who loses when a historically Black institution like North Carolina A&T channels a generous gift like the Dowdy funds into merit-based, rather than need-based, financial aid?

In considering this question, think about these facts:

  • Higher SAT scores are linked to economic privilege. Across ethnicities, higher scores on this and other standardized tests are associated with greater family income.
  • Based on the relatively affluent Black student populations at selective institutions that attract enroll many of the highest Black SAT scorers, it appears that there is heavy overlap between strong standardized test performance, high grades in honors and AP academic tracks, and economic privilege. This is confirmed in a recent report in the JBHE. According to the repoty, “A new study from researchers at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania finds that large numbers of black students at the nation’s most selective colleges and universities are either financially well off or have parents who were born in foreign nations.
  • A recent Ball State study (2006) found that, “[t]here was a greater achievement gap in SAT scores based on family income levels and parents’ education levels than racially between blacks and whites. The achievement gap based on high school GPA was similar across these factors.” Thus education appears to be a stronger determinant of SAT performance than race or ethnicity.
  • Greater parental education levels are associated with higher individual and household income. In 2003, for example, the average income of a bachelor’s degree holder was $66, 728, while the average income of a high school graduate with no college degree was $36, 835.

Based on the correlation between high SAT scores, high parental education levels, and higher household income, the Dowdy Scholarships’ heavy reliance on SAT scores represents a troubling turn for A&T, in which scholarship funds that might otherwise be used to alleviate the student debt burden of those undergraduates from the most economically marginalized backgrounds will instead be distributed to students who, based on prevailing trends, are likely to be among the most economically secure.

In some ways, I suppose that the Dowdy Scholarships represent a positive move toward equality. If majority white universities can used their funds to “buy” academically talented students, then so can HBCUs. Still, I would like to think that since HBCUs were originally founded on the moral high ground (embracing race blind admissions while their white counterparts remained exclusive), that their strategies for recruitment would continue to stand that ground.

Lincoln University’s new science building represents a more positive approach to the recruitment of the highest achieving Black students. Improvements to facilities (academic and residential), the hiring of high-profile faculty members, the expansion of library collections, and careful attention to groundskeeping benefit all students, and attract that target population of high Black SAT scorers.

HBCU administrators would do well to remember that some of the most successful recruiters of Black high SAT scorers offer only need-based financial aid. Yes, I am aware that A&T, FAMU, and similar institutions cannot depend on name recognition to the degree that Yale or Princeton or Stanford can; still, these schools draw students based on the association of their names with high academic achievement, state-of-the-art facilities, and cutting-edge research.

Without the name recognition of the Ivy League, Stanford, or Berkeley, HBCUs have to be a little more creative in conveying to prospective students that high-quality and cutting eduge intellectual work takes place and is supported on their campuses. But this is not an impossible task. If the standards are high, the students will come. Witness the successes of Xavier University and, especially, of Spelman College, the most selective of all HBCUs, and one of the most selective institutions in the U.S.

Posted by Ajuan Mance 

Gender-Based Achievment Gap No Less Persistent at Selective Institutions December 4, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Achivement Gap, African American Students, Black men, Black Students, Black women, Cedar Valley College, Cornell University, Current Events, gender gap, Higher Education.
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Ivy League science powerhouse Cornell University and Cedar Valley College (in the Dallas County Community College District’s ) may not have much in common in terms of region, endowment, selectivity, and mission, but they do have one thing in common. Each institution serves its constituency effectively and consistently, with one exception — both Cornell University and Cedar Valley College are failing their Black male students.

Actually, to say that these institutions are “failing their Black male students” might be a little too harsh. With a 75% graduation rate for African American men, and a roughly 86% graduation rate for African American students overall (including an average rate of roughly 90% for Black women), Cornell University has one of the highest Black graduation rates of any college in the United States (and a higher rate than any of the HBCUs).

In the case of Cedar Valley College, the flagging graduation rates for Black men reflects a larger national trend. This trend hits community colleges harder than 4-year institutions, largely because community colleges welcome a broader range of students, including many whose academic qualifications, financial status, and personal circumstances would identify them as “at-risk” for delayed graduation or attrition.

In an effort to address the gender achievement gap at this majority Black institution, both the chancellor of the Dallas Community College District and the president of Cedar Valley have joined a nationwide initiative to recruit and retain Black male students on community college campuses. (Click HERE to read a CBS report on Cedar Valley’s efforts).

So, while neither Cedar Valley nor Cornell are actually failing Black men (Cornell still graduates Black male students at a very high rate, and Cedar Valley is actively responding to this problem), that both the non-selective Cedar Valley and the highly selective Cornell are experiencing the same challenges in the area of Black male achievement points to the perplexing nature of this dilemma.

In the November 29th edition of The Cornell Daily Sun, Vice Provost for Social Science David Harris cites racism as one of the root causes of the Black male/Black female achievement gap on his campus — especially, “the negative stereotypes many people associate with black men, which can add to the difficulties blacks already face as underrepresented minorities on campus.” Click HERE to read the Daily Sun article.

Student leaders also offer these additional reasons for both race- and gender-based achievement gaps at Cornell:

Ernie Jolly ’09, Black Students United co-president, said that one issue for black and Latino students is “how comfortable they feel on campus.”

He said that it can be intimidating for a black student to be the only black person in a large lecture class and noted that sometimes professors have “different expectations” for their black and Latino students.

Enongo A. Lumumba-Kasongo ’08, Black Students United senior co-president added that oftentimes black students “haven’t had comfortable relationships with administrators or authority figures in the past,” and may have a hard time contacting and approaching professors or other members of Cornell’s faculty.

Although many students at Cornell come from lower socio-economic statuses, this is another difficulty faced by many minority students. The responsibility of “splitting studying with working,” creates difficulties for some students according to Iris Delgado ’09, vice president of ALANA, the African, Latino, Asian, Native American Programming Board.

Additionally, many minority students may be the first in their families to attend college and lack the familial guidance and support that other students take for granted.

That Cornell University is experiencing a racial achievement gap comes as no surprise to me. Despite their efforts , Ivy League and similar institutions do, simply by virtue of their disproportionately privileged student body, remain uncomfortable settings for many Black undergraduates.

The Black male/Black female gender gap, however, is more surprising. While Cornell’s Vice Provost Harris is correct in his observation that the negative stereotypes associated with their group hamper Black men’s adjustment and success on majority white college campuses. It is also true, however, that Black women must cope with the negative stereotypes associated with their group; and Black male and female students must confront many of the same stereotypes. Indeed, a number of the stereotypes most closely intertwined with Blacks’ presence on college campuses apply equally to men and women (that Black people are hypersexual and under-intelligent, that all Black people are only on campus because they have “stolen the place” of a more qualified white student, that Black people are incapable of high levels of academic achievement).

What, then, is the basis for this intra-racial gender gap? Perhaps it has something to do with the difference between gender stereotypes based on the high visibility of Black men as hypermasculine and gender stereotypes based on the invisibility of Black women as feminine. Perhaps it also is related to the role that Women’s Studies programs and feminist tools of analysis have played in giving women tools for externalizing prevailing stereotypes and then dismantling them.

Whatever the reasons for the achievement gap between Black men and Black women, there are two fundamental truths that institutions simply must bear in mind as they develop strategies to interpret and address this issue:

First, it is essential that all of us who are concerned about Black communities and Black education must remember that the existence of a gender gap in which women are graduating at higher rates than men is not, in and of itself, a problem. A difference of 5 percentage points or less, for example, might be ascribed to the greater opportunities available for men in the military, in the trades, in sports, and in other similar realms in which there are dramatically fewer possibilities for women. The 10 – 15 point differences that have become common in the Black community, however, suggest something other than young Black men opting to pursue career paths than do not require a bachelor’s degree; rather a gap of this size suggests that the great majority of those young men are falling between the cracks.

Second, and more importantly, we must not let our intra-racial comparisons (which paint Black women as relative sucesses on college campuses) obscure the fact that African American women, too, are struggling to complete their studies. As we consider the wisdom and effectiveness of developing specific strategies to address the needs of Black male matriculants, we must maintain our interest in and committment both to sustaining existing support systems for Black women students, and to developing new onse. We must not allow the fact that Black women’s overall college graduation rate is approximately 11 percentage points higher than that of their male counterparts distract us from the fact that, at 47%, the overall graduation rate for Black women is still low enough to suggest a desperate need for intervention.

Posted by Ajuan Mance