“There are more black men in jail than in college.”
True or false?
For years, it’s been an article of faith that an African-American man was more likely to end up in prison than in an institute of higher education.
Even President Obama, in his first campaign, said, “We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America.”
Charles Barkley said the same thing to Bob Costas.
But the statement is wildly off the mark. An urban legend.
“Today there are approximately 600,000 more black men in college than in jail, and the best research evidence suggests that the line was never true to begin with,” wrote Ivory A. Toldson, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education, in an article for The Root, last week.
The original myth, which he called “arguably the most frequently quoted statistic about black men in the United States,” was created by the Justice Policy Institute in a report called “Cellblocks or Classrooms.” It came out in 2002.
Toldson wrote that today, “black male representation in higher education is proportional to black male representation in the adult population.” The problem is that most of those students are under-represented at competitive colleges and over-represented at community colleges and online institutions.
In New York, where the overall prison population has dramatically come down — along with crime levels — Toldson told me the numbers reflected the changing scenario across the nation.
“In 2009, the total (all race) male prison population in New York state was 57,177. (DOJ) In 2010, the number of Black male college students in New York state was 90,558. (American Community Survey, U.S. Census)”
-Photo from the Gates Foundation via Flickr