CNN has been doing a tour of historically black colleges and universities this month. The first school they visited was Florida A&M University, which happens to be where I teach.
I saw on CNN today a short bit on black graduation rates and the gender difference in enrollment. This story revealed some rather interesting facts.
First, while there is a growing gender gap in higher education, the gap is even greater in the case of blacks. For example, the story noted that there are about two women enrolled at Howard for every male student. Interesting, the male students seemed concerned about this gap while a female student primarily expressed a positive attitude towards the fact that women had made progress in higher education. The gap, obviously enough, also holds at Florida A&M University-most of my students are women.
Since education is a good thing, it is good that more women are enrolling in college. However, the gender gap is a matter of concern. I would argue at length about this, but that has already been done by feminists in the past-when the gender gap favored men. Most of their arguments for gender equity can be dusted off and pressed into service once more.
The gender gap also raises some new problems. One problem that has been discussed is the possible social impact of having more college educated women than college educated men. People generally prefer to marry those with comparable educations and hence this might lead to some difficulties in this regard down the road. Of course, it can noted that this gap existed in the past as well-more men had college degrees than women.
Another concern is that other social and economic ills will increase as fewer men graduate from college. For example, it might lead to an increase in crime.
Second, graduation rates for blacks varies from school to school. In HBCUs, the graduation rate is lower than the national average. Interestingly, blacks at elite school graduate at exactly the same rate as all other students (about 90%). One way to explain this fact is to look at the factor that varies-money.
Those attending elite schools tend to come from wealthy families or are able to take advantage of significant financial support available at such well endowed school. Those attending other schools will generally be less well off and, of course, these schools have less money available for students.
My experience at Florida A&M University is that many students face the very real challenge of paying for school. Because of this, a significant number of my students work in order to pay tuition. Naturally, this makes school more challenging because of the time consumed by work.
It might be replied that many students work and are able to finish school. While this is true, many college students work to get extra money while their parents pay most of the expenses. In the case of some of my students, they have to pay everything themselves-hence they have to work longer hours. This past semester alone I had several students who were working full time jobs in addition to being full time students. Obviously enough, this can make completing college difficult.
It might be further replied that people are able to work full time and finish school. After all, I’ve heard the stories about people who have worked multiple jobs, raised a family and graduated from college. This does happen, but it can be very difficult and requires good time management skills. For many people, the challenge of work and school can prove to be too much. After all, 18-22 years olds tend not to be master of time management.
One obvious way to help with this problem is to increase the available financial support for students. While some people fail out of school because they don’t try hard enough or lack the ability, many people leave without graduating because of financial problems.
Given the well documented benefits of education, it seems irrational and irresponsible not to provide additional financial support for those who are seeking college degrees. One obvious benefit of having more college educated people is that such people tend to make more money-and hence generate more tax income. In general, education makes a person’s life better in many ways. Hence, if we want to spend money for social goods, education is the place to spend it. Hopefully, the next President and the next Congress will do more to address this problem.