Hoxby says some college administers had confided to her that they had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the pool of low-income students with top academic credentials was just limited, and there wasn’t much they could do to change that.
But in an analysis published with Christopher Avery in December, Hoxby has shown that this conclusion isn’t true. There is in fact a vast pool of highly talented, low-income students; they just aren’t ending up in top schools.
"The students whom they see are the students who apply," she says, of admissions officers. "And if a student doesn’t apply to any selective college or university, it’s impossible for admissions staff to see that they are out there."
Hoxby found that the majority of academically gifted low-income students come from a handful of places in the country: About 70 percent of them come from 15 large metropolitan areas. These areas often have highly regarded public high schools, such as Stuyvesant in New York City or Thomas Jefferson in the Washington, D.C., area.
Low-income high-achieving students at these schools have close to 100 percent odds of attending an Ivy League school or other highly selective college, Hoxby says.
The reasons are straightforward: These schools boast top teachers and immense resources. They have terrific guidance counselors. Highly selective colleges send scouts to these schools to recruit top talent. And perhaps most important, students in these schools are part of a peer group where many others are also headed to highly selective colleges.
Hoxby and Avery found that top students who do not live in these major metropolitan areas were significantly less likely to end up at a highly selective school. These students were far less likely to find themselves in a pipeline that ended at an Ivy League school.
I am sure that everyone who continues to be ambitious and pursue ever far-fetched goals eventually comes to the place that I just described. So, what makes it a crisis for young, successful black men, but simply a part of life for some others? The short answer is that it is a crisis because there are so few examples of high levels of success from which black men can mold a path.
Over the last 200 years of American history, there has been one African-American male President, one African-American male Attorney General, one African-American male Secretary of State, and two African-American male Supreme Court Justices. There is currently one African-American male governor, there have only been four in American history. Five (0.83%) of the Fortune 500 CEOs are African-American men. Approximately 1% of all law firm partners are African-American men. There has been one African-American male Surgeon General in American history. And fewer than six percent of all high-ranking military officers are African-American.
All of these statistics are an attempt to paint the picture that these laudable successes reinforce the crisis. The rarity of these accomplishments sends the message to similarly aspiring black men that getting into these positions comes with no guidebook, nor general path. Some might suggest that for many of the positions I cited there is no general path for anyone because so few people ever rise to those levels of success. However, this critique misses the point. For each position I named, there is a more or less common route, but those routes have not applied to African-American men who attained those positions.
For example, most presidents are governors before running for president; Obama was a U.S. senator. Most Supreme Court justices appointed directly from a seat as a court of appeals judges prior to becoming a justice; Thurgood Marshall was a solicitor general at the time of his appointment.
If I were a white male and I wanted to be a Fortune 500 CEO, it would make the most sense for me to get my undergraduate degree and possibly my MBA from Harvard, Stanford, U. Penn., or Columbia, which account for over 25% of all Fortune 500 CEOs. However, of the five black male Fortune 500 CEOs, three of the five went to one of the four named schools at some point, but the low sampling size makes it insufficient to call it a pattern or, even more, a potential path. For the white male CEO aspirant, the patterns is set, go to one of these schools and then have a one in four chance of being CEO. For the black male CEO aspirant, going to one of these four schools is probably a good idea, but in no way dispositive of increasing your likelihood of achieving your goal.
Before delving into suggestions for how young, successful black men should deal with the crisis, I want to deal with an issue that some who are reading this article closely may have noticed: I have purposefully avoided discussing industries where successful black men predominate; this was not a mistake.
When many Americans think of successful black men, besides President Obama, most think about NBA stars, NFL stars, black actors and music moguls. I have avoided these industries because more often than not, despite the fame and wealth of these black men, their team owners, record label owners, production companies, and movie studios are attaining more wealth. In fact, the dearth of black men in the ultimate decision-making positions in these industries simply reinforces the crisis previously articulated. If you consider athletes, actors, and musicians pay as a percentage of their respective company owners’ profits, they start to look a lot more like mid-level associates in large firms far away from the CEO suite.