Educators from across the country came together Wednesday to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on Black male student engagement at a panel discussion, hosted by the National Alliance of Community and Technical Colleges.

The panel discussion featured remarks from Donald Guy Generals, president of Community College of Philadelphia (CCP); Derrick A. Perkins, director of CCP’s Center for Male Engagement and I Am More Reentry Engagement programs; and Kenneth Ray Jr., vice president of student services and enrollment management for Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.

According to a McKinsey and Company report, 57% of students didn’t know their college had support services to help them cope with stress related to the pandemic, 25% of college students had trouble accessing the internet and 23% of college students changed their college plans altogether during the pandemic.

The data for the survey was collected from over 5,100 students at 38 colleges.

“Before this report, we did another survey about the impact of COVID on the student experience and we learned that Black students experienced more challenges with accessing technology,” said Linda García, executive director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin and moderator of the event.

“They also said they had to share their technology with someone in their home and had challenges of having enough food for themselves and family.”

Prior to the pandemic, only 15% of CCP’s students were men of color or Black men.

The one-year retention rate for Black students is 30% compared to white male students at 45%. For students in need of remediation, which includes reading, writing and math, Black students make up 27% and white students make up 13%.

“We had a problem before the pandemic hit, but the pandemic had exacerbated problems profoundly,” Generals said. “The reason why I think Black male students haven’t been succeeding has been due to finances, preparedness and community support.

“Then, you add the digital divide during the pandemic,” he added. “We know that there have been disparities all along, but what we want to do is get back to where we were and then continue to close the gap.”

To help increase the retention rate and academic outcomes for Black males and other male students of color, CCP has the Center for Male Engagement, a program that provides targeted academic and non-academic support designed to enhance students skill sets, cultivate a sense of belonging and build resolve to pursue a degree at the college.

“We try to create a space where students can be vulnerable with us,” Perkins said. “We also do a lot of work around career development because some students may know what they want to become, but don’t necessarily know that pathway in order to do that, so we introduce them to different career choices.”

Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite said that during the pandemic, the School District of Philadelphia lost 6,000 of its nearly 130,000 students during virtual learning.

“About 3,000 of those students are kindergartners whose families pulled them out or didn’t enroll them,” Hite said. “The vast majority of the other students were students of color, Black, African-American, Hispanic and Latinx students who have just disengaged.”

The district divides the schools into three sub-groups, which include schools that are on track, near track and off track based on students’ test scores on state assessments. The results from the assessments determines if schools are meeting their goals.

“We have 57 high schools,” Hite said. “Seven of those high schools are on track, 14 schools are near track and then the rest are off track. The schools that are performing on track have the lowest percentage of Black, African-American, Hispanic and Latinx students and the highest percentage of white students.

“In the near track schools, they have a higher percentage of Black, African-American, Hispanic and Latinx students and a white population of 13%,” he added. “The off track schools, which make up the vast majority of our high schools, have the highest rate of Black, African-American students with 58%, 25% of students are Hispanic and Latinx and only 7.8% of students are white.”

Hite added that the reasons for the disproportions in the district high schools could be housing patterns and circumstances associated with poverty.

In the fall, CCP classes and services will be conducted in hybrid or in-person format. The School District of Philadelphia will return to full in-person learning, starting Aug. 31.

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