Narrow race gap, widen gender gap
Guess why I am posting this.
By: Clarence Page
GRAMMY winner Kanye West's debut CD was titled "The College Dropout." His follow-up is called "Late Registration." I don't know what comes next, although I'm betting it's not "Student Loan Default."
After Grammy, Billboard and MTV awards, a Time magazine cover and what seems like billions of dollars in record sales, West has gotten along remarkably well despite dropping out of Chicago State University, where his mother was a professor. Few other dropouts are so fortunate.
That's why I'm relieved that West's latest title implies, at least, an important truism I've been trying to convey to my own impressionable 16-year-old hip-hop-loving son:'Tis more fruitful to drop into college than to drop out of it.
New census figures offer dramatic evidence of education's big payback: Income for African Americans with a four-year college degree has increased so much since the civil rights advances of the 1960s that we have almost closed our historical income gap with four-year college-educated whites.
In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, blacks with a bachelor's degree had a median income of
$36,694, which is almost as high as the $38,667 median income of whites with a bachelor's degree.
Unfortunately, black female graduates have closed the gap much more effectively than their black male counterparts have, and the gap between the races seems to be easier to explain than the gap between the sexes.
The median income of black males with a bachelor's degree was $41,916, almost 20 percent lower than the $51,138 median income of similarly educated white males. Similarly educated black women had a median income of $33,142, which was lower than black male graduates but about 10 percent higher than the $30,082 median income figure for similarly degreed white women.
White women's income looks lower than that of black women partly because college-educated black women are less likely to leave their career track in order to raise children, according to Census Bureau surveys.
And the gap between white and black males is partly explained by the likelihood that white professionals still tend to service clients and markets that are economically better off than those served by many black professionals.
Nevertheless, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education observed, "This is not to discount the value of a college degree for black men. African-American men with a bachelor's degree or higher still earn on average nearly double the income of black men with a high school diploma."
In fact, the Census found, blacks with a doctorate are beginning to show higher incomes on average than similarly educated whites.
Harder to explain than the race gap is the gap between the sexes within each race, partly because it has not gotten much attention until recent years.
Since 1975, the overall number of male students in college has remained relatively steady, while the number of women ballooned to 8 million in 1997 from 5 million in 1975, according to the American Council on Education.
Significantly, the biggest disparity showed up in families making less than $30,000 a year: Women made up 68 percent of those families' college enrollees, outnumbering the guys by more than two-to-one.
For black families during that same period, bachelor's degrees awarded to black men increased by 30 percent and to black women by 77 percent. Today, black women at some historically black campuses outnumber black men by two-to-one.
Some observers say the gender gap is explained at least in part by the wider options high-school-educated men may have compared to similarly educated women. Unfortunately, the only option being exercised by far too many young black males is jail — if they're not killed first.
Black males born today have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison in their lifetime, compared with a 1-in-17 chance for white males, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based prison research organization.
The result has only widened the gender gap among successful blacks. Young black men, for a variety of reasons, have not valued education as much as black women have. No one is better suited to rectify that horrible situation than we older black men are.
In the decade since the Million Man March stepped into Washington, numerous black male organizations have emerged in churches and neighborhoods to take our young men and boys under wing and show the value of education as a key to success. We need more to join in. As I am sure Kanye West would agree, late registration is better than none at all.
Clarence Page writes for the Chicago Tribune.