Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Factors of Persistence for African American Men in a Student Support Organization

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Factors of Persistence for African American Men in a Student Support Organization

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative study is to examine factors of persistence for two African American men involved in the Project Empowerment (PE, pseudonym) student organization at a predominantly White institution. The participants are undergraduate student members of PE, a campus-based organization designed to enhance African American male retention. The researcher conducted interviews with both participants, and analyzed the data verbatim uncovering these four themes: (a) college preparedness, (b) high aspirations and goals, (c) social connections and relationships, and (d) growth through student organizational commitment. The study found that components of PE support African American male persistence. The findings implicate the need for ethnic-based programs for African American men, and for institutions to encourage program participation among this student group.

Keywords: African American males, higher education, organizations, persistence, retention

The retention of college students remains an important goal for all postsecondary institutions (Flowers, 2004-2005). However, many institutions struggle to retain a significant proportion of these students. According to Museus and Quaye (2009), more than one-half of all students who enter higher education depart prematurely from their institution. The reasons for these departures are unknown, and not easily credited to a narrow set of explanatory factors (Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004). Of particular concern to many in higher education is the persisting problem of early departure among African American men. They have the lowest retention and graduation rates compared to females and other ethnic groups (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). In 2000, more than one-third of African American men earned a bachelor's degree (Kimbrough & Harper, 2006). This statistic supports the need for higher education institutions to implement effective retention practices that promote a culture of high degree attainment among African American men. Higher education's potential to address African American male retention was the catalyst for the present study. The present study focuses on how campus-based organizations enhance retention among African American male undergraduate students.

Literature Review

Much of the retention research centers on the longitudinal process of college student departure. This process generally examines the pathway of student entry into higher education, culminating with degree completion rates for an array of student cohorts (Nora, Barlow, & Crisp, 2005; Tinto, 1993). Embedded within this process are individual and institutional determinants that shape student departure and persistence decisions. Aside from its explanatory power, the epistemological underpinnings from these factors can enable higher education institutions to develop practices or policies that retain more of its enrolled students (Tinto, 1993). A few factors reviewed for this study help explain retention among African American male members of a student support organization, which include

* aspirations and goals,

* social integration,

* minority faculty engagement, and

* student organizational involvement.

These factors relate to the themes uncovered from this study. Furthermore, these factors contribute to higher education's way of knowing about retaining African American men. This article begins with a brief review of the literature discussing pertinent factors associated with African American male retention and persistence. The article will then provide an overview of the interactionalist theory, a common framework used to explain student departure and persistence decisions. Finally, the findings that emerged from the data, along with potential implications for higher education practice and research are discussed.

Aspirations and Goals

Astin (1975), Bean (1982), and Pascarella and colleagues (1987) found that initial aspirations and goals are significant predictors of degree attainment. …

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