Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Critical Facilitators of Non-Cognitive Skills for Black Males

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Critical Facilitators of Non-Cognitive Skills for Black Males

Article excerpt

Though they merely comprise three percent of the nation's higher education system (Gasman, 2013; Palmer & Wood, 2012) and were founded prior to 1964 (Gasman, Lundy-Wagner, Ransom, & Bowman, 2010), historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) remain important to the U.S. higher education landscape. For example, many HBCUs have garnered a reputation for admitting students who would not otherwise qualify for more selective institutions and graduating them with critical skills to access some of the nation's best graduate programs (Gasman et al., 2010). Indeed, evidence has shown that HBCUs create a warm, nurturing, family-like environment, which helps to facilitate Black students' self-efficacy, racial pride, psychological wellness, academic development, and persistence (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Reeder & Schmitt, 2013). Although underfunded compared to their predominantly White counterparts (Gasman et al., 2010; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Palmer & Griffin, 2009), HBCUs are frequently praised for disproportionately producing minority graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Gasman et al., 2007; Palmer & Wood, 2012; Pema et al., 2009) as well as producing many of the nation's Black judges, lawyers, and doctors (Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Palmer & Wood, 2012).

Despite the importance of HBCUs, many higher education researchers have indicated that there is a critical need for researchers to be more attentive to the student experience at these institutions in order to help them maximize their ability to increase student retention and persistence (Gasman et al., 2010; Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Lundy-Wagner & Gasman, 2011; Palmer, Wood, Dancy, & Strayhorn, 2014). While scholars emphasize that this research is needed for both genders at HBCUs (Lundy-Wagner & Gasman, 2011), data suggest that perhaps Black males may be in the most need. For example, research has illustrated that on many HBCU campuses, Black women are more likely to matriculate into these institutions, hold key leadership positions, and be academically successful than Black men. In fact, Black women are graduating from HBCUs at rates two to three times higher than Black men (Gasman et al., 2010; Kimbrough & Harper, 2006; Palmer et al., 2014).

Given the low persistence rate of Black men at HBCUs, this study sought to better understand the institutional experience for Black men at these institutions, as well as gain insight into factors that help to facilitate their retention and persistence. Using the voices of six Black men who persisted to graduation at HBCUs and are pursuing advanced degrees at a predominantly White institution (PWI), this study found that certain elements of the climate of HBCUs helped to engender and facilitate non-cognitive characteristics, which not only proved critical to the success of the Black men while at these institutions, but also beyond the institutional environment of HBCUs. To situate this study in the extant literature, the subsequent section of this article will review research on HBCUs, focusing specifically on empirical studies about Black men at Black colleges.

Review of Relevant Literature

Much of the research on Black students at HBCUs has focused on comparing the experiences and outcomes of students at these institutions with their counterparts at PWIs (Allen, 1992; Fries-Britt & Britt, 2002; Kim, 2002; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Nelson Laird, Bridges, Morelon-Quainoo, Williams, & Salinas Holmes, 2007; Reeder & Schmitt, 2013). While these studies have documented the supportive and family-oriented atmosphere of HBCUs, which are in contrast to the unwelcoming and individualistic climates of PWIs, few studies have focused specifically on the experiences of Black men at HBCUs (Gasman et al., 2010). For example, in 1975, a study Gurin and Epps conducted with over 5,000 Black students across 10 HBCUs revealed that compared to Black women, Black men were more likely to have considerably higher educational and career goals, were more likely to express an interest in enrolling in graduate and professional school, and were more attracted to prestigious careers in fields, such as engineering, business, and the sciences. …

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