Improving Outcomes for Men of Color in College: Recommendations for Advancing Success in the “Dual Pandemics”

By J. Luke Wood, Victor B. Sáenz, Emmet Campos

Implications for policy and practice:

  1. Consider adopting technologies and systems, such as early alerts, to connect men of color to evidence-based support services. Early-alert systems allow institutions to intervene and refer students to necessary support services when they are experiencing challenges in the classroom. These systems should be implemented for gatekeeper and entry-level courses that affect whether students can progress into major-level courses, and should be linked to specific institutional services and practices focused on men of color. Institutions should pay careful attention to the implementation of early-alert systems, given that they have not always been found to be effective if not implemented well.
  2. Provide professional development and support for classroom educators. Training should include diversity and inclusion–related topics that better prepare them to serve men of color effectively.
  3. Facilitate conversations about men of color among community colleges, universities, and K-12 school districts. These conversations about and with men of color are critical for sharing promising practices to support men of color as they face rapidly changing pressures, and for helping researchers and practitioners to understand the efficacy of programs, policies, and practices.
  4. Make data disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, and other factors available to faculty and staff. Institutions should make disaggregated student data available to faculty and staff to illuminate patterns of disparities in students’ outcomes across races, genders, and regions.

The COVID-19 pandemic fostered significant challenges for educational institutions. When the pandemic began, the crisis compelled schools, colleges, and universities to transition rapidly from traditional, face-to-face instruction to virtual instruction, an unprecedented task for educators. The transition to virtual instruction also limited social interactions during a time of heightened anxiety, stress, and fear of the unknown, not just domestically, but globally. For communities of color, the height of the pandemic was especially detrimental, since they bore a disproportionate share of infections, loss of life, and pandemic-related unemployment.

These conditions were intensified by the racial unrest experienced throughout the nation after the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others. These deaths led to worldwide protests and the ensuing protests being the topic of media attention for months. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial unrest occurring at the same time has been referred to as the “dual pandemics.”

Across colleges and universities, these challenges have contributed to startling enrollment declines for men of color, particularly in community colleges, which traditionally serve as their primary pathway into postsecondary education. This brief shares four strategies that can be employed by colleges and universities to support men of color, based on descriptive analyses, qualitative studies, and quantitative studies. These strategies have been further explored through consortia of institutions and research-practitioner partnerships that have generally focused on how to implement these efforts.

Please note that this brief refers to men of color as students who identify as Black/African American, Latino, Native American, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander. These men are identified as those who routinely experience disparities in outcomes (such as persistence in school, degree attainment, and transfers to four-year institutions) compared with their peers of other races and ethnicities. 

Consider adopting technologies and systems such as early alerts to connect male students of color to evidence-based support services.

Postsecondary institutions have developed an array of services (for example, advising, tutoring, financial aid, food pantries, and emergency grants) that can help alleviate some of the barriers to success that students of color routinely experience (for example, financial hardship), which may have become even more pronounced in the era of the dual pandemics. However, postsecondary institutions cannot always connect students with the right resources when students need them. Early-alert systems are a mechanism to streamline the delivery of these resources and services using real-time data on students’ academic performance. These systems monitor students’ course progress for indicators of possible attrition (indicators such as low scores, chronic absenteeism, or assignments turned in late), allowing advisers or faculty members to intervene and refer students to necessary support services when they are experiencing challenges in the classroom. In particular, early-alert systems may be most effective in entry-level and gatekeeper courses that men of color need to progress to major-level courses.

However, early-alert systems may only be effective if tied to the delivery of resources students need, and if implemented with specific interventions, including advising, tutoring, and mentoring services. Strong implementation of early-alert systems may be particularly important. One study of an early-alert system found positive impacts on some measures of student success at one institution, but no impacts when the same system was tested across 11 institutions, in part due to implementation challenges. In a well-designed early-alert system, the student’s dedicated adviser or mentor follows up after making referrals to continue to provide support to the student, conferring with faculty members where appropriate. A review of published research on men of color offers further guidance on the implementation of early alert systems for these men: (1) Staff members should be trained in the system’s use. (2) The system should be used routinely. (3) Interventions should occur in the early part of the academic term. (4) The system should facilitate referrals to support services. (5) Students should be aware of the system.

Provide professional development and support for classroom educators.

There is a ubiquitous need to better prepare postsecondary educators for teaching students. Although they are subject-matter experts within their respective disciplines, faculty members often receive little training on how to best deliver instruction. Beyond training in instruction specifically, institutions should equip educators with the skills needed to build personal connections with their students, validate the challenges students face, and encourage students to succeed. These strategies are intended to build on students’ strengths, and to ensure students feel they belong and are valued in their learning environments.[1]

For men of color specifically, there are many training programs for faculty and staff members on topics such as culturally relevant teaching, implicit and unconscious bias, racial microaggressions, and racial battle fatigue.[2] These topics are recommended for full-time and part-time faculty members, particularly since entry-level courses are often taught by part-time faculty members.[3] Research also suggests that representation matters—that the presence of Black and Latino male faculty members is positively associated with the academic performance of males of color. Faculty members of color provide powerful academic and interpersonal validation, helping students view themselves as competent.

Foster communication about men of color among community colleges, K-12 schools, and universities.

Addressing the scale of challenges that men of color face requires collective and state-level, high-impact efforts to cultivate and sustain learning communities from preschool through college that are dedicated to serving male students of color better. Collaboration across K-12 schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions allows educators to learn how to apply real-time interventions to students in need, eliminate less-effective interventions, promote organizational efficiency and effectiveness in serving men of color, and share practices that have been shown to be effective.

Over the past decade, consortia such as the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color, California State University Young Men of Color Consortium, and the National Consortium on College Men of Color have emerged to promote information sharing on promising practices, challenges, and approaches to systems change across institutions, systems, states, and educational sectors (K-12, community college, university). For example, the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color holds quarterly meetings of leaders; faculty members; diversity, equity, and inclusion program staff members; and student leaders from K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. It supports conversations on planning and development (for example, collaborating with local leaders, creating vision and action plans, setting goals), resource development and sustainability (for example, infusing programs into existing efforts, research-based program evaluation), and outreach and communication (for example, disseminating empirical evidence to policymakers, educating men of color on existing resources and services). The consortium provides space for male students of color to share how programs on their campuses have served them academically and personally. States and systems of education can provide incentives for institutions to participate in consortia through private philanthropy, federal grants, and state-level agencies. 

Empower faculty and staff to use disaggregated data to inform decisions.

In addition to training and development, another aspect of building the capabilities of faculty and staff members is helping them to use data properly. Institutions should make disaggregated data available to faculty and staff members to illuminate patterns of disparities in outcomes across races, genders, and regions. These data should be used to guide conversations on factors influencing the success of college men of color and to dispel myths and stereotypes that put the onus of success on students, as opposed to the educators and institutions that serve them. Using data to track student success is particularly important when measuring the success of programs that focus on the specific needs of men of color. A small but growing number of campuses, for example, San Antonio College (SACMEN) and Sam Houston State University (SH Elite Program), are supporting male students through a variety of programs and services that are guided by qualitative and survey data to measure success.

Adopting strategies and practices that use early-alert systems in entry-level and gatekeeper courses alongside training for faculty and staff members that focuses on culturally relevant teaching practices are critical institution-level interventions. But they state- and national-level initiatives are also needed to address longer-term, state- and national-level systemic policy change.


J. Luke Wood is the Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Education and Vice President for Student Affairs and Campus Diversity at San Diego State University. He codirects the Community College Equity Assessment Lab.

Victor B. Sáenz is chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin and the L. D. Haskew Centennial Professor in Public School Administration. He is the cofounder and executive director of Project MALES and the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color.

Emmet Campos directs Project MALES and the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

[1] J. Luke Wood, Frank Harris III, and Khalid White, Teaching Men of Color in the Community College: A Guidebook (San Diego, CA: Montezuma Publishing, 2015).

[2] Racial microaggressions can be defined as “subtle, daily, and unintentional racial slights committed against members of racialized groups.” See Derald W. Sue, Christina M. Capodilupo, Gina C. Torino, Jennifer M. Bucceri, Aisha M.B. Holder, Kevin L. Nadal, and Marta Esquilin, “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice,” American Psychologist 62, 4 (2007): 271–286, See also Rita Kohli and Daniel G. Solórzanom, “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microaggressions and the K-12 Classroom,” Race, Ethnicity, and Education 15, 4 (2012): 441–462,; and Monnica T. Williams, Matthew D. Skinta, and Renée Martin-Willett, “After Pierce and Sue: A Revised Racial Microaggressions Taxonomy,” Perspectives on Psychologial Science 16, 5 (2021): 991–1,007, Culturally relevant teaching “serves to empower students by drawing on a student’s culture to help them create meaning and understand their world.” See Gloria Ladson-Billings, “Culturally Relevant Teaching: The Key to Making Multicultural Education Work,” in Research and Multicultural Education: From the Margins to the Mainstream, ed. Carl A. Grant (London: Routledge, 1992), 106–121, Implicit or unconscious bias “refers to attitudes and beliefs that occur outside of our conscious awareness and control.” See Charlotte Ruhl, “Implicit or Unconscious Bias,” Simply Psychology, 2020, See also Cheryl Staats, “Understanding Implicit Bias: What Educators Should Know,” American Educator 39, 4 (2016): 29–33, Racial battle fatigue is the cumulative psychological, social, physiological, and emotional impacts of racial micro- and macroaggressions and racist abuse of racially marginalized groups. See William A. Smith, Racial Battle Fatigue in Higher Education: Exposing the Myth of Post-Racial America. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.)

[3] Frank Harris III, Eric R. Felix, Estela M. Bensimon, J. Luke Wood, Ana Mercado, Oscar Monge, and Vanessa Falcon, Supporting Men of Color in Community colleges: An Examination of Promising Practices and California Student Equity Plans (San Francisco, CA: College Futures Foundation, 2017); Victor Sáenz, Luis Ponjuán, Emmet Campos, and Jorge Burmicky, Transformative Praxis: Lessons Learned from the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color (RISE for Boys and Men of Color, 2018),