More Black Men in College than in Prison

At this point, it's almost a cliché to declare "There are more black men in jail than in college." I've heard it my entire life—from adults, friends, politicians, and assorted pundits. When he was just a presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama told the NAACP that "We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America."

It's a great soundbite. But it isn't true. As Howard University professor Ivory Toldson shows in a story for The Root, the original report on black male college enrollment—the Justice Policy Institute's "Cellblocks or Classrooms," first published in 2001—is far out of date. "If we replicated JPI's analysis," writes Toldson, "we would find a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011. The raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011."

By contrast, of the estimated 2 million inmates held in state or federal prison—or local jails—841,000 are African American men. To be fair, those numbers are from 2009. Toldson provides a more direct comparison using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey and the Department of Justice's statistics on prison enrollment:

 

 

In 2009, the DOJ's most recent year for data on prison populations, there were more than 150 percent more black males in college than incarcerated. Given the declining prison presence of African Americans—incarceration rates fell sharply between 2000 and 2009, and remain on a downward slope—and the growing presence of blacks in higher education, the difference between the two populations is likely larger.

This is great news. Whether it will affect our conversations over the status of black males is, of course, a different question.

Comments

Where is the media, why do we only hear the bad news. If we want to instill urgency and ambition in African American children than this bit of news need to be told as well.

Yes, this is great information to have and I know. We bear down on the negative experiences which continue self-stereotypes that too many rely on as a means of economic and promotional survival. This speaks to the selling of the urban problem which still exist. Even social justice and inequality in our country have to be promoted and marketed to our consumer-driven lives. Yes, the problem here is the lying. We are too bent upon lies to ever get it right. Just because the greater society's moral fiber is lacking does not make it right. What is truly lacking is the creative integrity which makes a people and country great. This seems to have been more than not compromised.

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