Higher Education is Not Prepared to Deal with Reentry Nontraditional Black Males

Kemuel Benyehudah | Education | Commentary | February 8th, 2018

Higher education has a major problem on its hands. How to deal with reentry nontraditional aged Black males in higher education? According to the Pew Research Center report in 2016, more than 36% of whites ages 25 and older have bachelor's degrees, compared with 23% of blacks. Colleges struggle to graduate Black male students, ages 25 years old and upwards, when compared with their similar white male counterparts. Solving retention and completion issues are paramount if tertiary institutions hope to broaden access and equity for all of its students. To achieve these goals the following barriers must be addressed concerning Black males: 1) lack of access to culturally relevant pedagogy, 2) systematic denial of mental health services, 3) social isolation, and lack of peer group support during college tenure.

Reentry Black males face numerous challenges when they return to college. Ferlin McGaskey said, some of the unique problems Black males face are "financial constraints, work-life balance, and household management." Multitasking multiple identities creates many obstacles, such as finding affordable child care, finding sufficient time after work to attend school. According to J. Luke Wood, and Ronald Williams, Black men in community colleges are more likely to be low-income, have dependents, be married, and delayed enrollment into higher education. Coupled with unequal education in the K-12 system, along with inadequate services in higher education, many Black men do not graduate in the traditional 4 years or not at all. The reasons for their troubles have been largely misunderstood due to stereotypes, and inadequate research to support their achievement.

For example, Black males are systematically denied mental health services in higher education. This is problematic since, " community colleges educate more black and Latino men than any other higher education institution." Although, some argue that students from low-income backgrounds - many of whom are black men - don't use mental health services in college. The truth is that, most community colleges, where many of these students attend, don't have mental health facilities to accommodate their psychological and emotional needs. According to the 2016 Too Distress to Learn report , "just 8% of community colleges" and "58% of four-year colleges and universities have on-site psychiatric facilities appropriate for treating mental illness." Black males attending these schools face multiple risk factors for poor mental health, such as housing instability, food insecurity, and depression.

Social isolation at home, and in school, hinders many Black males from forming healthy relationships: with faculty, peers, and even family. For example, family members may criticize them for ignoring their responsibilities; whereas, at school their out of school lives may make it difficult to completely devote themselves to school. As a result, some college faculty members may view their Black male students through a deficit lens, which re-inscribes low-achievement expectations.

Reentry Black male's lives and circumstances must be honored and affirmed to ensure that they are valued members of their institutions. Policy recommendations should not be prescriptive, but crafted according to their students' individual needs. In order to better support these students, the following reform efforts must be put in place: 1) democratic classrooms must be created in higher education to reflect reentry Black male students lives outside of the classroom, as this would help reduce alienation 2) expanding mental health supports will provide the appropriate social service interventions, and treatments to support their psychoeducational development 3) providing support groups on campus for Black males would allow them to talk about their struggles without fear of ridicule or shame.

Many reentry students are first generation college students, who have jobs, and need academic supports instead of remedial classes, which have a poor track record. Higher education's glacial reform pace is leaving many reentry students to languish for years in the system or worse, they never make it out of the tertiary rubix cube. To this point, the remedial system has to be displaced for a more holistic approach informed by evidence based practices. The Accelerated Study in Associate Programs provides evidence that a multilevel intervention targeting the emotional, social, and academic needs of Black males is worth scaling up. Yet, instead of scaling up these proven models, local and federal funding cuts continue to mount at college institutions predominantly serving reentry Black males.

Unfortunately, these misinformed decisions have created an alternate college experience for reentry students - a nontraditional one. Because of this, it's time for colleges and universities - with the support of stable funding - to remake the nontraditional college experience and finally provide them with an equal education.