By JANITA POE
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
RALEIGH -- St. Augustine's College wants men. Especially black men, a group that is increasingly underrepresented on campuses across the country.
So St. Augustine's, a historically black college affiliated with the Episcopal Church, has begun offering new majors popular with males -- criminal science and property management. It's hired as a recruiter a former college track star who, administrators say, appeals to potential athletes.
And, this fall, after a 36-year hiatus, St. Augustine's returned to the gridiron.
"We're bringing young men to college who want to play football," said head coach Michael Costa, a former Marine. "Once we get them here, we focus on their education and discipline. We want to help prepare the young men for life." School officials say the campaign is paying off. Last fall, the student body consisted of 552 men and 808 women. This fall, the college has 712 men and 790 women.
Nationally, the college gender gap remains wide and is growing. Men's enrollments haven't fallen, but they have failed to keep up with rapid increases by women.
From 1960 to 2000, the proportion of men of all races on college campuses fell from 66 percent to 44 percent. The trend was most pronounced among black men: In 2002, just 38 percent of black college students were male.
The situation alarms many African-Americans.
Without more black men in college, St. Augustine President Dianne Boardley Suber and other administrators at black colleges say, fewer will play leadership roles in the workplace, community and home.
One of the most repeated laments in the black community is that there are more black men in prison than in college. This is true, but only if black inmates of all ages are counted. Among black men of college age, there are four times as many in college as behind bars. A generation ago, black men outnumbered black women on college campuses. For example, at Howard University in Washington, one of the country's most prestigious black colleges, men outnumbered women 2-to-1 in the 1950s. Today the ratio is exactly reversed.
Across the country, some schools have converted men's dorms to women's dorms. Some have eliminated men's sports programs. Others have expanded programs historically popular with women, such as elementary education and nursing.
Carmen Cannon, an education professor and enrollment administrator at Howard, said the feminist movement propelled more women into college in the 1960s. At the same time, many men were faced with the pressure to provide for their families and enter well-paying jobs as soon as possible, even if it meant passing up a college degree.
As a group, Cannon said, black men coming out of high school are among the least prepared for the academic rigors of university life. Young black men, she said, have fewer role models than others and some are confronted with negative peer pressure and the attitude that being smart means "acting white."
"Many sociological and cultural factors have made education less appealing to males than females," Cannon said. "There just are not as many males now who are motivated, prepared and able to go to college as there were years ago."
Giving remedial help
At St. Augustine's, students and faculty attribute their success at attracting men in large part to Suber, who took over as president in December 1999. She instituted a five-year option that includes a year of remedial classes and developed new majors of interest to men.
Even before her arrival, the school's board of trustees had discussed re-establishing the football team, which had been part of campus life from 1899 to 1966. "It was a part of their vision and it still is," Suber said.
Walking across the campus recently, Ebony Porter-Martin, a senior pre-med major, waved at some young men heading to class. She says the increase in the number of male students has improved the social life for women at the school. "You could tell the difference from the first day of registration," she said. "Before, there were just a lot more women."
Jay Chapman, a junior criminal justice major and football player from Washington, said many black men don't even consider college as an option.
"Being a male, it's bad," Chapman said. "I knew I wanted to get out of my neighborhood, which was really, really bad. But a lot of the guys didn't. A lot of them just wanted to make it on their own. They didn't feel as though they needed college."
Chapman said more young black men would go to college, and be better off for it, if they just had someone to show them the way. Someone like Coach Costa, who is something of a surrogate father to his 75 players, many of whom come from families where the only parent at home is the mother.
"A lot of the guys don't know what college has to offer," Chapman said. "They need people like Coach to come and tell them."