Increasing Black Male College Access and Success
The illustration above is from the National Black Male College Achievement Study by Penn University Professor Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D., “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education.” The study provides a different research perspective as to the plight of Black males in gaining access to, and succeeding in, higher education. As opposed to a deficit-based perspective seeking to identify all of the challenges to Black male educational attainment, Dr. Harper examines the support mechanisms and assets of Black males who have successfully navigated P-16 education into advanced degrees and a broad range of careers.
Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College, is quoted as noting the importance of the 5Ms, “Messaging, Mentoring, Monitoring, Ministering, and Money,” as representing important areas of strategic thinking for policymakers:
- What are the messages being sent to Black males as they navigate their P – 16 journey through higher education?
- What type of mentoring are they in need of as they progress through early adolescence, puberty, and into manhood?
- What monitoring mechanisms are needed to monitor their academic achievement, social development, intellectual and creative development?
- What type of ministering to their sense of social, community, spiritual, and humanitarian consciousness is needed?
- And finally, what type of financial support, i.e., money, will they need to gain access to, and support themselves, through college degree attainment?
Dr. Harper provides important insight into how reframing deficit-oriented questions such as:
- Why do so few Black male students enroll in college?
- What are Black male students’ grade point averages often the lowest among both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups on many campuses?
- How were aspirations for postsecondary education cultivated among Black male students who are currently enrolled in college?
- What resources are most effective in helping Black male achievers earn GPAs above 3.0 in a variety or majors, including STEM fields?
I was particularly pleased to note that the Pre-College Socialization and Readiness questions reflected in Dr. Harper’s Anti-Deficit Achievement Framework are being addressed through our work at the foundation and through our partnership with the Turner Chapel AME Church Education Ministry. As a result of Dr. Harper’s research, we now have plans to incorporate additional questions pertaining to college achievement and post-college success into our College Panel Discussions. Parents and students should incorporate such questions into their college research and evaluation efforts:
- What transition support does the college offer for incoming freshmen who may not have had adequate preparation in their secondary schools?
- Are class sizes, student-faculty ratios, and campus culture best suited to student needs?
- What opportunities are provided for students to foster relationships with instructors?
- What opportunities are provided for students to engage in research and internships?
- What support and encouragement is provided to stimulate and nurture students’ degrees beyond the baccalaureate?
While raising such questions is important for all students considering their many postsecondary opportunities, there is a critically important question that parents of Black males, and students themselves must consider, “How will the institution treat me while I am there and how will the institution prepare me for the type of racism I am likely to encounter as I pursue graduate or professional degrees and enter the post-college workplace?” Answering this question was important in guiding the college choice of our older son, who ultimately chose Amherst College, and in part, guided our younger son in narrowing the list of colleges to which he has applied:
- Amherst College
- University of Pennsylvania
- Northwestern University
- Washington University
Important findings for parents, educators, and policymakers to take into consideration are:
When asked, “Did you always know you were going to college?” the overwhelming majority of students responded, ‘Yes—it was never a question of if, but where.’ From boyhood through high school, parents and other family members reinforced to the achievers that college was the most viable pathway to social uplift and success. Interestingly, nearly half the participants came from homes where neither parent had attained a bachelor’s degree. Although they had little or no firsthand experience with higher education, these parents cultivated within their children a belief that college was the only allowable next step after high school.
When asked what differentiated their own paths from those of their peers who were not enrolled in college, the participants almost unanimously cited parenting practices. Their friends’ parents, the achievers believed, did not consistently maintain high expectations and were not as involved in their sons’ schooling. By contrast, most of the achievers’ parents and family members more aggressively sought out educational resources to ensure their success—tutoring and academic support programs, college preparatory initiatives, and summer academies and camps, to name a few.
Some of the key recommendations from the study are:
- Importance of consistently high parent expectations
- Equipping Families with College Knowledge
- Culturally sensitizing teachers, counselors, and postsecondary faculty to the practices and processes that are harmful to student achievement and aspirations
- Importance of college preparatory experiences
- Removal of financial barriers
- Importance of summer bridge programs
- Assuming institutional responsibility for Black males student engagement
Much of what is echoed through the reflections of the young men in the study as well as the key recommendations are reflected through our work with students and families:
- Closing the college-knowledge gap
- Assisting parents and students in identifying summer and pre-college programs
- Developing writing and communication skills
- Engaging in college research
- Identifying sources of financial aid
- Identifying the best college choice
- Preparing quality application packages to be considered for admissions into highly-selective colleges and universities
- Providing academic tutorial support
- Developing a sense of social and community consciousness
Perhaps most importantly, reinforcing the message, “It is not if you are going to college, only where are you going to college!” We are eagerly anticipating Dr. Harper’s forthcoming book, “Exceeding Expectations: How Black male Students Succeed in College.”
Many of the factors articulated as having contributed to the success of the Black men interviewed in Dr. Harper’s research are reflected in research findings from Ivory Toldson, Ph.D., in, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males” and in The Journal of Negro Education issue, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males”:
- Importance of parents and family as an important contributor to Black male achievement
- Importance of educational institutions in involving parents in school readiness and collaborating with parents to ensure nurturing and supportive actualizing school-based experiences for Black youth
- Benefits of an authoritative parenting style on Black male behavior and academic achievement
- Impact of after-school programs, tutoring, social skills training/group counseling, recreational, and cultural activities on strengthening Black male academic achievement
- Types of classroom environment and learning experiences cultivated by classroom teachers
- Impact of race-related experiences on Black male achievement
Another important recommendation is:
“Religiously affiliated institutions should provide tutoring, mentoring, preparatory workshops for college entrance tests, scholarship for the talented but underprivileged, assistance with college applications, youth summer jobs/programs, assistance to poor families, and spirual services and assistance to Black male inmates and to former inmates who have transitioned back to the community.”
There is clearly a role that faith-based and community organizations must accept if we are to increase the numbers of academically successful Black males.