According to Ivory A. Toldson, a professor at Howard University and deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the most commonly cited statistic about black men in the US is “there are more [of them] in jail than in college.”
But, as Toldson discovered, there’s a problem with it: It’s not true.
The oft-quoted myth comes from the Justice Policy Institute’s report “Cellblocks or Classrooms” which includes the key line: “Nearly a third more African-American men are incarcerated than in higher education.”
According to Toldson, the 2002 “Cell Blocks Versus Classroom” report that provided the basis of “more black men in prison than in college” was based on data that was was likely incomplete at the time, and has definitely become outdated since.
“I pulled the data from 2001 that the Justice Policy Institute used [for the “Cellblocks of Classrooms” report] and I noticed that at least 1,000 colleges weren’t reporting their head count of black males then,” he told NPR in 2013. “And I also noticed that a lot of colleges that didn’t report any numbers, when the Justice Policy Institute wrote their report, were historically black universities. They were big, state universities that I’m pretty sure had some black males present at the time.”
That’s right. The number of black men in college used in the report wasn’t actually the number of black men in college. It was the number of black men at schools that chose to report this data — a much smaller figure.
Plus, things have changed. Thanks to a variety of factors including the popularity of for-profit colleges, the raw numbers show that enrollment of black males in college increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,437,363 in 2013.
Yes, leaving out the data of some 1,000 institutions — including historically black colleges (HBCUs) — just might throw off the numbers a little, wouldn’t you say?
Toldson says the repetition of this lie does “far more harm than good”: “[W]e will not sufficiently support black male college students — nor college-bound students — if we simply keep perpetuating the myth that juxtaposes their needs with those of black males in the criminal-justice system.”
h/t to Joanne Jacobs.