Black Females Far Exceed Males In College Entrance And Selectivity

January 13th, 2014

By Su Jin Jez, Professor of Public Policy, Sacramento State Univeristy

As previously noted on The College Puzzle, outcomes for Black and Latino males are stunningly worse than outcomes for Black and Latino females.  The fact that males are falling behind is not a new story, however the gender disparities among minorities is striking.  In two studies, I examine the gap between Black males and Black females in college access. 

Noting that Black females make up two-thirds of black postsecondary enrollments and 60% of blacks with at least a bachelor’s degree, I seek to understand how do brothers and sisters with shared experiences have such markedly different outcomes?  Using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 Cohort dataset (NLSY97), I find that black females are more likely than black males to apply to college and attend college.  Moreover, black females are more likely than black males to attend both 2-year and 4-year colleges and are more likely to attend more selective colleges.   Why do these disparities exist?  Differences in students’ backgrounds, academic achievement, and Catholic school attendance explain the differences in the type of colleges black females and males attend, but fail to explain differences in college application and attendance rates.

Puzzled by the lingering unexplained differences, I sought out explanations beyond the usual education of economics factors.  In a new study, Crystal Renee Chambers and I use the NLSY97 to explore the concept of identity capital as an explanatory factor in understanding these disparities between black males and females.  Identity capital is individual’s investment in a set of personal resources and contextual awareness; it encompasses a portfolio of psychosocial skills that enable an individual to interact with a diverse array of persons and situations.  We find that differences in identity capital between black males and females explain differences in college attendance.  While the mechanism by which identity capital affects college attendance is not clear, these findings point directly to identity capital being a factor with potential to improve college enrollments among Black males.  We urge further research into the role of identity capital and urge policymakers and practitioners to think more broadly about creating environments that support minority males and building the capital necessary to be successful in fulfilling their postsecondary goals.

Su Jin Jez is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Sacramento.  Contact information and links to this (and other) work can be found at:  http://webpages.csus.edu/~jezs/

First study: Jez, S.J. (2012). Analyzing the Female Advantage in College Access among African Americans. In C. Chambers (Eds.), Black American Female Undergraduates on Campus: Successes and Challenges. Diversity in Higher Education Series.

Second study:  Jez, S.J., & Chambers, C. (in revision). An Exploration of Identity Capital as a Predictor of College Attendance Gender Differentials among African Americans.  [please email Dr. Jez for a copy]

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