Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

U Penn Grad Prep Academy Aims at Black Males

July 23rd, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

Many will hail the announcement by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) that they have created an early identification program specifically of Black males as an exciting development. Indeed, Penn’s Grad Prep Academy is a wonderful opportunity for talented college juniors of African descent to get mentorship, support, an insider’s view of the Penn GSE application process, and full funding for a 3-month, $1200 Stanley Kaplan GRE prep course.

The 10 Black men who are selected for the program will get a 4 – day, all expenses paid trip to the Penn campus, during which they will tour facilities and meet with GSE students and faculty. When it comes time to apply to graduate school, these applicants will be able to apply to Penn with all fees waived. In addition, “each Academy participant will be paired with a current Ph.D. student in education at Penn GSE or elsewhere who will offer mentoring throughout the graduate school application process, feedback on essays and other application materials, and advice on where else to apply besides Penn GSE.”

Penn has stated that their goal is to enroll as many members of the Grad Prep Academy class as possible, which indicates that these young men will be well positioned for acceptance into this prestigious doctoral program.

Having spent a considerable amount of my career observing what works and what doesn’t in terms of recruiting Black students to undergrad and graduate programs, I have to give credit where credit is due. The Grad Prep Academy– which familiarizes students with the Penn campus, sustains each student’s relationship with the institution throughout the application process, and then (most likely) facilitates their admission — is exactly the kind of initiative that works. Early identification leads to application which leads to admission which leads to greater numbers of (in this case) Black men in Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

As a Black woman professor who mentors young Black women interested in doctoral study, though, I must say that I am saddened by what seems to be the absence of similar programs for young Black women. Is this an indication that Penn administrators believe they already have enough Black women doctoral students in the School of Education? If so, then might the University consider developing similar programs in those fields in which Black women are underrepresented?

There is certainly a gender gap in Black education. For the last ten years, African American women have earned roughly 65% of all doctorates awarded to Black people (Source: The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE)). The 65% statistic can be quite misleading, though, in that it seems to imply that there are large numbers of Black women doctoral students. The reality is that in all but two fields (Business and Education), African Americans make up between 2% and 9% of all graduate students enrolled. Consider the following chart from the JBHE.


If Black women make up 65% percent of all graduate students in any field except Education or Business, then they — like their male counterparts — are still dramatically underrepresented. While the focus on Black men is in many ways admirable, it fails to address the ways in which graduate education is, in general, failing to attract Black people in most disciplines. In other words, there is significant room for improvement in graduate recruitment and mentoring for Black students across genders.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African American Students, African Americans, Black men, Black Students, Black women, Current Events, Higher Education, race

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