In his introduction to this valuable and timely collection of essays and articles, Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger refers to the need for a blueprint that encourages boys to become good men.
As the president of a liberal arts college for men, I hear those words with intense interest and incredible excitement. I believe that Hampden-Sydney College, as an all-male institution, has a significant contribution to make to this critical national dialogue about what makes good men.
After students have been here a while, they sense that they have become part of something that is at first hard to define. The word that captures that reality for most here is an admittedly archaic one, "brotherhood," and, as alumni, they remain loyal to their alma mater and helpful to the next generation of Hampden-Sydney brothers.
Perhaps there is something in that notion of brotherhood at Hampden-Sydney that can inform today's conversation about what it means to be good men. Recent decades have seen advances in women's rights and an overdue correction of the "place" of women in society. At the same time, there is a growing concern that young men are not finding their place. Unlike the spirit of what they encounter at Hampden-Sydney, they are not "part of something." The ideal of brotherhood, although no panacea, suggests a commitment to something other than one's self, fidelity to ideas that transcend the individual, and a predisposition to care about others' needs. These are powerful ideas that feel absent in today's fragmented, disconnected, self-oriented society, and this absence has been particularly debilitating for young men and boys.
Young men choose Hampden-Sydney College for many of the reasons they might select any well regarded college: small classes, professors they get to know personally, the possibility of taking part in the full range of collegiate life from athletics to the arts, and the sense that they are more than "a number" on a massive campus.
Writers, such as Christopher Post, headmaster of Boys Latin of Maryland, and Dr. Linda Sax, of UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, who have both contributed to this What Works collection, emphasize another crucial reality: young men experience school differently from young women. We understand that at Hampden-Sydney.
There is an intriguing statistic, one that we've been tracking for several years, that makes us think we're on to something at this college for men. Hampden-Sydney's graduation rate is 11% higher than the national average for men at all colleges and universities.*That significantly stronger number suggests there is real value in educating men in a single-gender setting, known for a rigorous academic program.
On campus, we debate as to why we see this compelling statistic. And, through planned conferences and other ways to convene thought leaders from across the nation, we will be bringing that debate as well as discussions about raising boys and engaging young men out to the general public.
The issues are that urgent.
The number of young men on campuses is declining. Their graduation rate trails that of women. In recent years, these trends are exacerbated by a stubbornly sluggish economy that does not seem to generate the career opportunities of earlier years. There is a growing sense that we are seeing the twenty-first century's version of a "lost generation" of young men.
One of the reasons for compiling this fine collection of essays is to encourage the investment of attention and thinking to issues such as these. Hampden-Sydney will contribute to the dialogue, sharing the insights we've experienced on this campus and providing a commons so that others may communicate their observations, ideas, and best practices.
There is at Hampden-Sydney more than two centuries of experience in teaching young men. We look forward to sharing that knowledge with the rest of the nation and helping to draw up the blueprint called for to create good men and good citizens.
* While the national six-year graduation rate for men at all colleges and universities is 56%, Hampden-Sydney's six-year graduation rate has averaged 67% for the past seven years. The six-year graduation rate is the most commonly used comparative figure in the national collegiate community and is the rate used by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Dept. of Education in the 2013 report that provides the 56% figure cited.
Christopher Howard (B.A. Air Force Academy; M.B.A. Harvard; M. Phil. and D Phil. Oxford) is president of Hampden-Sydney College. He was a founder, former chairman, and is a current trustee of the Impact Young Lives Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides scholarship and travel opportunities for South African university students of color. He was a 2012 honoree of Dominion Power's Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership Series and was named a 2010 African-American Trailblazer in Virginia History by the Library of Virginia. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education and the Advisory Board of the Morehouse Research Institute.