The "Unsung Hero" of Black Retention: Student Leadership Development Opportunities Are Essential in Higher Education and Can Deepen Students' Educational Experience

By Dabney, James | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The "Unsung Hero" of Black Retention: Student Leadership Development Opportunities Are Essential in Higher Education and Can Deepen Students' Educational Experience


Dabney, James, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


A well-documented body of research has stated positions and articulated best practices in ensuring that African-Americans matriculate through and graduate from postsecondary institutions. The discourse around college success for African-Americans is multifaceted and it considers academic and nonacademic factors as keys to student retention and persistence. In the literature, these dynamics are often categorized in four domains: academic (tutorial programs and strong academic advisement); financial (availability of grants, scholarships); social (culturally relevant student organizations and racial composition of student body); and personal (opportunities for parental engagement and access to religious and spiritual organizations).

Educational researchers argue that if these four tenets are considered, African-American students will more than likely integrate into the social ethos of and have the tools to engage in the academic rigor of higher education; thus, having a greater chance of succeeding in their postsecondary endeavors. The four aforementioned areas are critical in the successful persistence and retention efforts of higher education institutions and they have proven conducive in retaining and graduating African-Americans. However, there is a less mentioned piece in the literature: the topic of leadership development.

Although documented sporadically throughout the literature on student retention and seldom associated with the social aspect of college retention and persistence, the intersection between college success and leadership development among college students remains understudied and fragmented at best. Leadership development, as a mechanism to ensure college success, can shape itself in many forms at higher education institutions. Campus-based organizations, residence halls, student government associations, peer-mentoring programs and other related opportunities provide students with myriad ways to evolve their leadership skills. Along the same lines, some colleges and universities have shown to improve graduation rates of African-Americans through culturally based student organizations that foster a sense of belonging and allow students to assume leadership roles. Studies on gender-specific student groups have also proven effective in African-American retention, particularly for males. Moreover, there has been a positive link between African-American retention rates and their participation in Greek-letter fraternities and sororities.

Within these leadership capacities, faculty, administrators and student affairs practitioners must ensure that African-American students are provided with occasions to hone in on their leadership skills through formal and informal professional development opportunities. …

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