Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Extending Bell's Concept of Interest Convergence: A Framework for Understanding the African American Doctoral Student Experience

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Extending Bell's Concept of Interest Convergence: A Framework for Understanding the African American Doctoral Student Experience

Article excerpt


One essential aspect of the doctoral process is the student-faculty relationship, which involves formal and informal advising between faculty members and students and is often cited as the most influential factor of degree completion and success (Lovitts, 2001). Given the significant increase in the number of African Americans obtaining the doctorate (Cook & Cordova, 2006), further investigating the role of advising in the African American student experience is warranted. While the number of degrees attained has increased over generations, the representation of African American doctoral degree recipients remains a cause for concern. For example, in 1977, African Americans earned 3.8% of all doctoral degrees and by 2005 that increased to a mere 5.8% (Hoffer, Welch, Webber, Williams & Lisek, 2006). For many African American doctoral students, progress towards degree completion involves navigating many barriers.

Previous research about African American (1) degree attainment has deemed low degree completion rates at preceding educational levels and an under-representation of minority faculty as two primary causes for the slow progression of African American doctoral degree completion rates in the United States (Allen, Haddad, & Kirkland, 1984; Felder Thompson, 2008; Gasman, Hirschfield, & Vultaggio, 2008; Willie, Grady, & Hope, 1991). Within elite institutions, there is a lack of faculty diversity coupled with historical legacies of exclusion that cultivate alienating educational environments (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen 1999) In these types of environments, the stakes for developing successful faculty-student advising relationships becomes higher since there are lower levels of African American doctoral student enrollment (Gasman et al., 2008). The disparity of Blacks with doctoral degrees translates into the lack of representation of Black faculty at American colleges and universities.

According to the United States Department of Education National Center of Education statistics report (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011) on the racial/ethnic composition of college and university faculty, Blacks represent approximately 7%. This same report identified that 19% of college and university executives, administrators, or managers were Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian; minorities account for 33 percent of non-professional staff. To understand the impact of the faculty-student relationship on African American doctoral student success, we focus on advising as a culturally-focused practice by exploring the experiences of African American doctoral students and degree recipients and the ways in which their interests may converge or diverge with their faculty relationships and institutional environment. While there is emerging literature on the diverse aspects of student experiences within doctoral education (Gardner, 2010), our purpose is two-fold: 1) to build upon existing knowledge by expanding discussions about the racial and cultural facets of the doctoral student experience and how faculty mentoring and institutional climate shape doctoral student development towards degree completion; and 2) to recommend practices that facilitate student success.

Literature Review

Doctoral Advising and Mentoring

While there has been an increase in advising research, a majority of this work focuses on undergraduate advising (Creamer, 2000; Frank, 2000; McCalla-Wriggins, 2000; Priest & McPhee, 2000); however, there are stark differences between undergraduate and graduate advising. While undergraduate advising consists of a relationship between students and professional advisors, graduate advising involves a more complex system of students, faculty, departments, and disciplinary communities within and beyond the institution (Kramer, 2000; Lovitts, 2001; Tinto, 1993; Walker, Golde, Jones, Bueschel & Hutchings, 2008). …

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