By Phillip Jackson
October 17, 2006
After 30 years of rising enrollments, the low number of Black students applying to and enrolling in American colleges and universities is shocking. While this does not bode well for Black students attending college today, it predicts an absolutely disastrous future in the next 10- to 20-years for the Black community. Instead of more Black doctors, lawyers, educators, accountants, business managers, technologists, social workers, and engineers, the Black community will have more government dependent, unskilled and unemployed workers. This current educational meltdown will have a catastrophic effect on the Black community.
Earning a college degree today creates the same level of opportunity for students that earning a high school diploma did 15 years ago. And yet, fewer and fewer Black American students are applying to, enrolling in, attending, and graduating from four-year colleges. Without a college degree, these students, especially males, are sentenced to low-paying jobs, under- and unemployment, street-corner hustling, illicit activity, prison, and shortened life-spans. Black male students with college degrees are the potential economic engine that powers the Black community. The lack of outrage and response by the Black community to Black students not going to college and the impending consequences is the real travesty.
A study by ACT, Inc., with cooperation from the Council of Great City Schools, suggests that this trend is not caused by disinterested students. Disturbingly, the study finds that: "Urban college-bound minority high school students have high educational ambitions, but many lack the college-planning information and support they need to make informed choices on how to realize these ambitions."
Using the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) as an example, their Black freshmen enrollment has plummeted from a high of 12% of the freshmen class before Proposition 209, which negated race as an admission criterion, to a low of 2% for 2006. This means that only 96 Black freshmen will enroll in UCLA this year, a university of 38,500 students. This trend of plummeting enrollment is being played out across the United States at flagship universities in Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, Indiana, Louisiana and Florida . Additionally regional, small and private colleges are also losing Black enrollment. Equally, or maybe more disturbing, is the fact that high-quality, Historically Black Colleges and Universities are recruiting non-Black students to shore up their lagging Black student enrollments .
Scholarships, by themselves, are not the answer to this problem. Many civic groups in the Black community give scholarships to students. Unfortunately, these scholarships do not usually translate into more qualified Black students attending college. While the cost of college is prohibitively expensive, this money might be better spent investing in the higher education pipeline that is working to produce a larger pool of high-quality Black college applicants for all colleges. If students don't aspire to, aren't ready for, don't have access to, or don't know how to apply to, enroll at and succeed in college; scholarships, alone, won't solve the problem of diminishing Black enrollments.
Black communities cannot depend on colleges to recruit Black students. This is not their mission. Nor can the Black community leave the college aspiration and application process only to local high schools. Getting Black students to apply to, enroll in, attend, and graduate from colleges must become a grassroots activity supported by the whole community, not just the local high school. Community- and faith-based organizations must pick up this banner of college enrollment or watch the Black community fall back to pre-1960's educational levels while the rest of the world zooms forward in the 21st century.
The Black Star Project, an educational reform organization in Chicago, has launched Destination College 2007 in memory of Silas B. Purnell, a man who helped more than 55,000 Black students across the country enroll in colleges in his 34-year career. We are preparing Black students in grades 6 through 12 to go to college. In the coming years because of this project, we expect thousands more Black students to enroll in colleges across the country who would not have enrolled otherwise.
For this effort of increasing Black enrollment in college to be successful:
- Parents and families must become chief advocates for student college enrollment
- All members of the Black community must ensure that young students learn to value education and commit to going to college
- Federal, state and local educators and policymakers must improve the k-12 process for preparing students for college work
- Elementary schools must improve the basic skills of Black students in kindergarten through 8th grade
- High schools must better prepare Black students with rigorous course work and high standards
- Colleges and universities must adopt policies that holistically evaluate Black students who apply to their schools, not just using GPA, ACT or SAT scores
- Elementary schools must start the college awareness process in 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grades
- Community and faith-based organizations must create an expectation among Black children and their families of college enrollment, attendance, and graduation
- Colleges and universities must provide mentoring, nurturing, and academic support for new Black college students
- High schools must partner with responsible community- and faith-based organizations to help secure college enrollment for Black students.
 "JBHE Completes Its Count of Black Students and Faculty at the Nation's 50 Flagship State Universities," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Internet, available: http://www.jbhe.com/features/51_survey_stateuniversities.html
 Blitzer, Wolf, "Enrollment of white students on rise at historically black colleges." Internet, available: http://cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/2000/US/05/18/black.colleges