Why Black men fall behind in America? Well duh, its racism!

What looked like a good-news report on minorities in higher education was released Monday: The number of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native American students enrolled in college doubled during the past decade.

The American Council on Education, however, finds troubling news, deeper in the report. For African-American men, an alarming gender gap is widening:

•High school completion. During the past decade, the graduation rate for black women improved while the rate for men slipped. Currently, 56% of black women graduate from high school, compared with 43% of Black men, according to the Urban Institute.

•College enrollment. From 2000 to 2001, the number of Black men in higher education rose by 30,000. That's good news, but during the same period the number of Black women in college rose by 73,000. Twice as many Black women as Black men now attend college.

•College degrees. From 2001 to 2002, the increase in the number of degrees — associates, bachelor's or master's — earned by Black men was less than 3%. By contrast, the number of Black women earning associate's degrees rose by 6.5%, bachelor's by 4.3% and master's by 4.5%

What's happening?

Aside from social issues such as inappropriate role models and broken homes, the answers from education experts start with bad school experiences. Special-education referrals that, in truth, are failures on the part of schools to teach basic literacy skills, for example, sidetrack thousands of young Back males.

Other answers focus on job choices. Men are drawn into traditionally male blue-collar jobs in factories or construction. By contrast, more women see their futures tied to careers that require at least a two-year degree.

Many of the men who choose work over college lose out, because over a lifetime, college graduates will earn twice as much as high school graduates.

Colleges won't see more black men applying until the pipeline from high school expands. That means creating school environments — beginning with pre-school and ending with the senior year of high school — where the boys are as successful and ambitious as the girls. It also means disseminating the best research, and replicating the biggest success stories, as widely as possible.

The gender-gap figures released Monday should prompt concern, not complacency. Action, not excuses. What looks to be impossible may merely be difficult.

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