St. Louis Community College initiative addresses challenges African-American men face in college | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Community College initiative addresses challenges African-American men face in college

Mar 22, 2016

A large body of study has amassed over the past 20 years looking critically at enrollment, retention and persistence rates of African-American men in higher education. The statistics are startling. Enrollment numbers are dwindling, with African-American male college enrollment around 34 percent, compared with 39 percent of African-American women.

Once enrolled in colleges, retention and persistence in education also become challenges. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 34 percent of black men who enrolled were able to attain a bachelor’s degree, whereas 65.9 percent of black women were able to attain the same degree. Similar statistics apply to associates, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Keith Ware, the director of St. Louis Community College's African American Male Initiative.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Enter St. Louis Community College’s African-American Male Initiative, which was instituted to improve retention and persistence rates at the college’s Florissant Valley and Forest Park campuses. On Tuesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” host Don Marsh discussed the program and the challenges African-American men face in higher education with the program’s director, Keith Ware.

Ware said that he initially became involved with the program after his own experience at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. He attended the college on an athletic scholarship for golf and had the opportunity to tutor his classmates, where he found many black men lagged behind academically.

“I think a lot of people assume that when African-American men get to college, they should already be prepared and I saw firsthand they were not,” Ware said. “We have a lot of students that come to St. Louis Community College, and other institutions, that are not ready mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually and they’re thrown into a position of [being expected] to know everything. They’re having a lot of internal issues with themselves.”

While this preparedness issue affects people across institutions of higher education, St. Louis Community College students experience a heightened level of issue because they are often “non-traditional” students from ages 18 to 70 with varying levels of work and education experience.

"You get that stigma that as a man, you should be able to provide, to take care of yourself. We're in a different time now, and men need as much help as women, as much as children." — Keith Ware

The program started in 2008 with a grant from the Department of Education and serves 240 men. Recently, the program has expanded to help people in the St. Louis area prepare for the rigors of school before they enroll at St. Louis Community College. Students work with staff and faculty as well as attend workshops and events to help bolster life skills needed to help aid schoolwork. The initiative will also pair students with other students in a mentorship program.

“The biggest challenge ahead is getting everyone to understand the benefits of working with African- American males and males in general,” Ware said. “You get that stigma that as a man, you should be able to provide, to take care of yourself. We’re in a different time now, and men need as much help as women, as much as children.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.