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While black and Latino men attending community college have some of the highest educational aspirations of any racial or gender group, they are also the least likely to achieve those dreams.

That’s one of several worrisome findings included in “Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges,” a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement, which also details several possible strategies for remedying the situation.

The report argues that black and Latino males graduate from college at disproportionately low rates partly because they arrive less prepared for college-level work and suffer from discrimination and stereotyping (or what’s known as “stereotype threat”: fear that they will live up to negative stereotypes) once at college.

Male students of color are more likely to attend community colleges than any other type of higher education institution. And, on average, they are more ambitious and engaged while there (not skipping class, seeking out academic help) than white male students, which makes their overall lag in performance particularly troubling.

Of the more than 370,000 community college students surveyed, 87 percent of black and Latino men said they hoped to earn an associate’s degree, compared to 80 percent of white men. Yet 32 percent of white men earn certificates or degrees within three years, compared to five percent of Latino and black men.

Moreover, black and Latino males report using just about every form of academic support provided by their community college — tutoring, computer labs, study skills courses — at higher rates than white males with the same GPA. That finding suggests that black and Latino males have to work far harder to achieve at the same levels as their white peers.

Acknowledging that, “Race and ethnicity intersect in complicated ways with gender, socioeconomic status, college readiness and other factors,” the report’s authors conclude that “there remains the necessary and unequivocal recognition that in this society, race matters.”

Most of the suggestions for improvements fall into the categories of helping black and Latino male students build strong relationships with mentors, improving the diversity and cultural sensitivity of faculty members, or strengthening the remedial courses many struggling students take when they arrive at community colleges.

Among the model programs described in the report:

  • Jackson College in Michigan created an intensive mentoring program for male students of color called Men of Merit through which students meet biweekly with mentors who can provide academic and career advice. Black males who participated in the program in the fall of 2011 had an 81 percent chance of making it to their second semester, compared to 61 percent of black male students who did not participate.
  • Most of North Carolina’s community college participate in what’s known as the Minority Male Mentoring Program, which works with both full and part-time students to provide academic advising, study skills courses, and service learning opportunities. The program, started in 2003, has significantly boosted retention rates for minority male students across participating schools.

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Sarah Carr edits stories and contributes reporting from New England. From 2011 to 2014, she oversaw Hechinger's coverage of New Orleans and Mississippi. Since then, she has led an investigative education...

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