This one was that there are more black men in prison than in college, but, as this article from Vox reports, that is wrong.

An excerpt.

“There are more black men in jail than in college.”

Ivory A. Toldson — Howard University professor, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs — called this, in a 2013 column for the Root, “the most frequently quoted statistic about black men in the United States.”

It’s also dead wrong.

Where it came from

In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute, a national nonprofit dedicated to reducing incarceration, released a report titled “Cellblocks or Classrooms: The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and its Impact on African American Men.”

One of its key sobering findings was this: “Nearly a third more African-American men are incarcerated than in higher education.”

The statistic almost instantly became a talking point. It was often deployed by those who wanted to explain just how dire racial disparities in the United States were, and how desperately the situation facing black men needed attention and intervention….

Where did we get so confused?

According to Toldson, the 2002 “Cell Blocks Versus Classroom” report that provided the basis of “more black men in prison than in college” was based on data that was likely incomplete at the time, and has definitely become outdated since.

“I pulled the data from 2001 that the Justice Policy Institute used [for the “Cellblocks of Classrooms” report] and I noticed that at least 1,000 colleges weren’t reporting their head count of black males then,” he told NPR in 2013. “And I also noticed that a lot of colleges that didn’t report any numbers, when the Justice Policy Institute wrote their report, were historically black universities. They were big, state universities that I’m pretty sure had some black males present at the time.”

That’s right. The number of black men in college used in the report wasn’t actually the number of black men in college. It was the number of black men at schools that chose to report this data — a much smaller figure.

Plus, things have changed. Thanks to a variety of factors including the popularity of for-profit colleges, the raw numbers show that enrollment of black males in college increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,437,363 in 2013.

Numbers aside, the college vs. prison comparison is problematic on its face. Men (of all races) can be incarcerated at any point in their lives for any length of time, while enrollment in college typically happens during a narrow age range and a short timespan. So contrasting the two experiences is an apples-to-oranges exercise that doesn’t tell us much about what’s happening with any population.

Retrieved February 17, 2015 from