CSUDH group looks to counter lagging male higher education success rate
At colleges across the nation, women are leaving men behind, especially Latino and black men, and California State University, Dominguez Hills, is no exception.
But this year, a growing effort is under way on the Carson campus to narrow the gap.
Called the Male Success Alliance, the organization aims to combat some of the cultural forces working against men of color, such as a lack of male role models in their lives and the notion that studying isn’t masculine.
“I think women are a little more focused than us, I hate to say it,” said Mardel Baldwin, student body president at Dominguez Hills, and himself an African American. “Maybe it’s because they had their mothers, and kind of had that positive role model in their lives.”
Whatever the reason, the disparity is striking. Nationwide, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor degrees in the decade that ended in 2010, according to the American Council on Education, a research organization.
At CSU-Dominguez Hills, there are literally two girls for every boy, but the lopsided enrollment in itself isn’t a surprise: two signature majors at the school are education and nursing – professions dominated by women. More worrisome is the gender gap in their respective rates of success. At Dominguez Hills, 38 percent of female freshmen graduate within six years, while the corresponding figure for men is just 27 percent.
The organization at Dominguez Hills was launched in fall 2010 by the administration. But it wasn’t until Baldwin took an interest in it that the group has begun to really come to life.
Baldwin was concerned about the issue of lagging male success even before he knew about the Male Success Alliance, so much so that, shortly after his election to the post, he penned a letter to the administration expressing his dissatisfaction with the lack of minority men graduating from college.
“I really wanted to bring that to people’s attention: We’re coming but we’re not leaving with that degree,” he said.
Baldwin was immediately put in touch with the administrator in charge of the group, and helped expand the organization into something that was more student driven.
Now, the roughly 30 members of the group’s new student-club component hold regular meetings, gather to study together in the library, schedule workshops and reach out to other organizations on campus, such as fraternities. The members even dress spiffy every other Monday: burgundy ties, white dress shirts, black sport coats.
(The group just launched a tie drive on campus for men who don’t own one.)
In an effort to preach what they are trying to practice, the group also plans to put on an ambitious summit this spring for high school males from across the region. To eliminate the transportation excuse, they plan to send school buses to the high schools to pick up the young men.
The broad idea is to create for each other what many of their families have failed to provide for them: a support network.
David Lopez, the president of the new student club, knows about this firsthand. The senior was raised without a father figure in a hardscrabble Watts neighborhood.
“I used to wake up for school and my dad was already gone,” he said. “By the time my dad came back, I was asleep. The only time I saw him was every other Sunday. It got to the point where he moved on to live with some other lady.”
Lopez nonetheless persevered in high school. But when he got to college, the hand of fate tried several times to knock him off his path.
Once, his financial aid failed to kick in, and he was nearly forced to drop all of his classes. Another time, his home life intervened.
It was the day of finals two years ago, and Lopez was earning B’s or better in his classes. Then came a family emergency: His brother – who, unlike Lopez was an illegal immigrant – had been arrested and was in danger of being deported. He needed Lopez to testify for him in court. Lopez skipped his finals to do so and flunked most of his classes.
“I just felt like my family really needed my assistance,” he said.
His brother was ultimately deported, but Lopez bounced back, and is now a senior majoring in marketing. He has an internship with an investment company under his belt. The future is looking brighter.
Baldwin, meanwhile, was lucky enough to grow up in a stable family, with a father who’d gone to college and works as an engineer. Many of his friends in his native Long Beach weren’t so lucky. While some of them got caught up with drugs and gangs, he never felt the pull.
“My father and mother were really on me,” he said. “Plus I’m not the kind of guy who just follows people because it’s cool.”
Still, Baldwin admits his academic discipline in high school was lacking. He went to Long Beach City College, where he remained somewhat uninspired but still managed to obtain an associate’s degree in business management. The jolt of reality came when he started looking for jobs. He didn’t even apply to very many, so unqualified was he.
“I couldn’t even put my name in the drawing because I didn’t have the qualifications,” he said. “That was an eye-opener for me.”
He took a job at UPS and pondered his future, ultimately opting to transfer to Dominguez Hills.
While evidence for the gender gap is plentiful, research on the reasons behind it is lacking.
But William Franklin, associate vice president for student success at Dominguez Hills, has a few theories.
“We can go all the way back to K-12 education,” he said. “Right now over 80 percent of the teachers are female.”
(Indeed, males also lag in K-12 education. In California, girls outperform boys in English, though the genders have long been neck-and-neck in math.)
Media messages also are to blame, added Franklin, who launched the Male Success Alliance last school year at the behest of Dominguez Hills President Mildred Garcia.
“How many times have you seen a TV program where African American and Latino males are sitting at a desk and studying together?” he said.
For his part, Lopez has a hypothesis that involves an unintended consequence of positive social change.
“When women gained equal rights, men lost their role,” he said. “When they got that sense of empowerment, males felt like they didn’t need to be as responsible as they used to.”