Now Is the Time to Support Men of Color and Transform Higher Education
December 05, 2022
By Saúl Valdez, Program Officer
Over the past thirty years, significant progress has been made to get more men of color to enroll in institutions of higher education. However, we have not seen the same concerted efforts to ensure that men of color who start college are well supported throughout their campus experience as they progress toward a credential. Systemic barriers persist, creating disparities in postsecondary outcomes.
ECMC Foundation is committed to identifying areas where our funding can positively impact today’s learners. After years of analysis, we believe the time has come for a postsecondary funder to fuel a nationwide effort that prioritizes men of color. The Foundation’s new Men of Color Initiative is a first-of-its-kind national postsecondary initiative that is inclusive of Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian, and Native American men.
Many of us have a college-going story. Unfortunately, not all of us have a college completion story. When I think back on my own experience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I am struck by how my ability to navigate college as a first-generation student and Latino man hinged on finding my community and network of support on campus. If not for the countless hours I spent at my alma matter’s multicultural center or joining a Latino-based fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta, I don’t know if I would have found my sense of belonging on campus, faced my imposter syndrome and ultimately received my baccalaureate degree. After graduating, I was naïve to think that my postsecondary experience would create a positive ripple effect for the next generation of relatives, peers and younger mentees after me. Instead, I saw many of them struggle to accumulate credits and to this date, I’m still among the few in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree.
As a result, I’ve dedicated my work career to explore various ways to support students to enroll in and graduate from college through programmatic support and policy reform across the country. In all my years of doing this work, I’ve always held onto one truth: students aren’t at fault for longstanding persistence and completion disparities – it’s the systems of higher education that have been unable to address structural and systemic barriers that inhibit student achievement on and off campus. The system is failing men of color, and there are clear data that illustrate how institutions underserve this population after enrollment.
For example, after six years, colleges and universities award bachelor’s degrees to 36.6% of men of color compared to 63.4% of white men. And while 62.2% of this population enroll in college, colleges award only 25% with an associate degree in three years. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had disproportionate impacts on men of color. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, undergraduate men’s enrollment decline was three times higher than women's during the first year of the pandemic. In sum, transfer enrollment decreased by 15.6% for men since the pandemic began. But make no mistake, disparities in higher education outcomes were a pre-existing condition. The time has come to disrupt and improve the status quo. Reform is overdue.
While hundreds of nonprofits and community-based organizations partner with colleges and universities to support young men of color to and through college, including former ECMC Foundation grantees SAAB and A2Mend, no singular “best practices” model exists. Further, there is limited scholarship on the quantitative outcomes for these programs and initiatives housed and run directly by campus leaders, with few exceptions. Similarly, only a few states have coordinated efforts amongst various colleges and universities to support boys and men of color. ECMC Foundation’s Men of Color Initiative seek to change this using two key strategies. The design of our signature strategy will support colleges and universities bringing data-informed and equity-centered programs and practices to their campuses.
In partnership with the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, ECMC Foundation will identify 12 community colleges that seek to pilot, implement and scale innovative campus-wide efforts to support college students who are men of color by May 2023. Funding would allow currently established community college programs to improve their infrastructure and expand their programming and operations to serve more men of color. Each program will be eligible to receive at least $75,000 over two academic years. Details on the Request for Proposal (RFP) process will be released in early 2023. Sign up for Foundation news and updates to stay informed.
The Men of Color Initiative will also support ongoing grant opportunities. Our ability to transform the postsecondary ecosystem will require dedicated investments that can scale impact, support institutional capacity building, and pilot potential solutions that can be adopted by peer institutions and systems of higher education alike. Grant opportunities will focus on:
- Building the capacity for networks of institutions and systems of higher education to better understand and resolve key pressure points that impact men of color such as academic performance, gateway courses and academic programs where students have historically struggled.
- Bolstering regional, state and national-level partnerships to develop, advance and establish men of color strategies across college campuses and networks of support.
- Implementing innovative efforts to enact structural changes in areas such as proactive advising, mentoring and career development support models to help men of color complete college and transition into the workforce.
- Recruiting/re-enrolling men of color campaigns for men of color who left their institution after accumulating credit-bearing academic units.
- Scaling structured development opportunities for faculty and administrators to promote teaching and learning in culturally responsive ways.
- Elevating the field’s understanding of issues facing men of color and solutions through narrative change and policy work.
While our overarching vision is for all learners to unlock their fullest potential, we must acknowledge there are racial, socioeconomic and gendered implications to our work. I could not be more excited about coordinating the launch of this strategy and ECMC Foundation’s willingness to step up and embrace the complexity of this work. ECMC Foundation is committed to investing in programs to ensure the success of men of color and other underserved student populations. I encourage you to join us in this movement toward developing new knowledge, spurring innovation and testing new ideas, interventions, policies and programs.
 Huerta, A. H., Romero-Morales, M., Dizon, J. P. M., Salazar, M. E., & Nguyen, J. V. (2021). Empowering Men of Color in Higher Education: A Focus on Psychological, Social, and Cultural Factors. Pullias Center for Higher Education. Brooms, D. R., Clark, J., & Smith, M. (2018). Empowering men of color on campus. Rutgers University Press.