Black male student enrollment drops significantly at community colleges during pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fewer black men are enrolled in community college this semester and the reason isn’t academics - it’s the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some national education reports show black male enrollment has declined by 14 percent at community colleges.

Southwest Tennessee Community College officials said full-time student enrollment is down significantly this semester and many of their students are working adults.

“Our students have had to choose life over an education at this particular time,” said Dr. Kendricks Hooker, Vice President of academic affairs. “Whether that’s finding other opportunities for employment, dealing with family members who have been impacted by the pandemic, I think life has challenged our students even more so than ever.”

The Tennessee Board of Regents system reported an overall average decline of 12.6% from fall 2019 to fall 2020

Officials said Southwest Tennessee Community College had one of the greatest declines in the TBR system statewide with a 24 percent drop in enrollment. Additionally, TBR reports show Southwest serves a greater proportion of low-income students than any other community college with 50 percent.

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School data shows that number jumps to 26.9 percent decline in black male students and 27.7 percent decline in black female students.

Teachers say some students may be facing job less from the pandemic.

“Because when you can’t take care of your family, school then takes a back seat and so we have to find ways to connect with them and encourage them,” said Derek Wheatley, Southwest Tennessee Community College instructor.

The number of TN Promise scholarship recipients also dropped by more than 250 students at Southwest from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020. On average, about 13 percent of these recipients are African American statewide.

Wheatley said if these students don’t re-enroll, it can setback their goals.

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“It becomes dreams denied or dreams delayed because there’s a reason you enrolled in the first place,” said Wheatley. “I often tell my students to remember their why, like why did you chose to enroll in school in the first place. You know, we didn’t hunt you down there was something you wanted to accomplish.”

That’s why college leaders say they’re taking action to encourage these students to come back.

Hooker said they’re reaching out to 800 black male students who opted not to re-enroll this fall.

“Some of the black males across the institution, we’re going to call these students and see if we can intervene in some way to address some of those needs, address some of those barriers,” said Hooker.

One of those barriers was technology. Dr. Hooker said the school bought 3,500 laptops to help students who needed them and for the campuses that are open, he said the wifi coverage extends to the parking.

Additionally, Hooker said starting December 14, the student affairs staff will back on campus to help students in person if needed.