Prof Addresses Gender And Ethnicity Achievement Gap In Higher Ed

When  Dr. Luis Ponjuan joined the College of Education & Human Development at Texas A&M, he came with a research agenda that is gaining national attention: find a way to improve the growing achievement gap between males and females in college, specifically Hispanic and African-American males.

Luis Ponjuan

Luis Ponjuan, associate professor at Texas A&M

Ponjuan, associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development, explores the reasons why Hispanic and African-American men are less likely than other males to attend a postsecondary institution and complete a degree.

“What we’ve found is very sobering. For the first time in the history of American higher education, women earned more undergraduate degrees than men,” said Ponjuan. “Male college enrollment has trended downward in Texas, the U.S. and internationally. In some postsecondary institutions, we’re seeing male to female ratios in the student body as low as 40:60.”

In the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s policy brief, “Closing the Gap,” the organization made a specific priority to close the gender gap by increasing postsecondary participation and success rates for Hispanic and African-American males. By sheer numbers, Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the state of Texas and yet are the least likely to participate in any form of higher education.

“This gap between what will be needed in our educated workforce and where we are currently as a nation is severe,” Ponjuan added. “The largest group of people not attending postsecondary institutions are males ““ and of this group, the vast majority of those not attending are Hispanic and African-American.”

According to a 2011 report released by, 60 percent of the Texas workforce will require some type of post-secondary credential by the year 2020, and currently, 31 percent of the Texas workforce has that level of education qualification.

“This gap of almost 30 percent is huge ““ and there’s no way to tell what the overall impact is going to be on the Texas economy,” said Ponjuan.

To examine this challenging educational trend, Ponjuan has teamed up with Dr. Victor Saenz, an associate professor in education from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Ponjuan and Dr. Saenz developed this new research project based on their earlier research work. Dr. Saenz, through funding from The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, created a new mentoring program in 2010 named Project M.A.L.E.S. (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success). This innovative outreach-mentoring program focused on increasing Latino males’ entry and degree completion rates at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There is something happening to our males that is leading them to underestimate the importance of completing an education,” said Saenz. “The long-term implications are yet to be determined. We need to explore what we are doing as a higher education system to encourage more males to go to college ““ with a particular interest in minority males. ”

Ponjuan has been awarded a $243,000 grant from the TG Foundation to conduct a study to examine how two- and four-year Texas higher education institutions develop initiatives to address this silent educational crisis. This is in addition to a previously awarded $335,000 grant from the Greater Texas Foundation. Both grants support a joint research effort between the two flagship research institutions, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. This research partnership aims to directly address the Latino and African-American male educational crisis in the Texas higher education system.

“We need to come up with solutions,” Ponjuan commented. “Dr. Saenz and I hope that our research findings will generate enough awareness to improve this very alarming trend.”

For more information on Project MALES, visit


About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man:  12 Impacts of the 12th Man  is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit

Media contact:   Chris Hummel, Communications Specialist, College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University; 979.845.1823;

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