Chris Catching says that African-American men are being left behind.

A doctoral student in education at Rutgers University, he doesn’t think higher education knows what to do with black men. So he wants to show them. He’s studying his fellow students and learning why they are staying in school.

"So much of the research focuses on the pathological," Catching says. Instead, they should find out what works, he adds.

Nationwide, women earn the lion’s share of college degrees among African-Americans. The gender gap has been growing for years, and educators have been grasping for ways to close it.

"It’s just a very complex problem. One of the things I know about boys is for boys, it’s just not cool. It’s just not macho to get an education, to speak properly, to be the top of the class. Among our boys, it’s just not macho to be that person," says Carey Jenkins, founder of Operation Link-Up, a program that helps children attend college.

Jenkins has 27 students attending Syracuse University, but only five of them are men.

Jenkins says there are a lot of messages in the media and in the classroom that discourage African-American boys, who can feel out of place in school.

"I think a negative message is being sent out to boys," he says. "There just seem to be more positive role models for girls, more women who are out there who are doing something."

One key to solving the problem: mentors

Catching, the Rutgers doctoral student, says African-American men who succeed in college share many characteristics. In particular, he says, they all had several mentors who have helped them.

"Some of the key things have been mentors at all levels of their life, mentors in their community, parental support and sensitivity on behalf of educators," Catching says. "Those mentors help you get through those roadblocks." He said mentors helped him graduate from Montclair State University in 1999.

Jenkins, of Operation Link-Up, adds that it takes more effort to convince boys to go to college than girls. He says that if he could hire another person, he’d have that person roam the halls of high schools to attract more boys into his program. Unlike girls, Jenkins says, boys need more convincing to see the value of college.

"You’ve got to find them and you’ve got to drag them in, then you’ve got to sell them on education."

© 2006, North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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