Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Deficient or Resilient: A Critical Review of Black Male Academic Success and Persistence in Higher Education

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Deficient or Resilient: A Critical Review of Black Male Academic Success and Persistence in Higher Education

Article excerpt

What contributes to persistent trends of Black male educational underachievement? Past literature has often used a deficit-informed framework to answer this question, portraying Black male students as incapable, unintelligent, disadvantaged, and at-risk to fail, feeding into negative stereotypes. In this article, our primary objective is to depart from this deficit-informed orientation, seeking out themes that speak to, and explain, Black male resiliency while discussing major developments in research on Black college men in both PWIs and HBCUs. We aim to fill gaps in existing research by using a more heuristic framework, one that may guide future research on Black male collegiate experiences and success by drawing upon resilience theories.

Keywords: Black male students, academic resilience, higher education, academic achievement

Eunyoung Kim Seton Hall University

Background and Context

Despite holding high aspirations to attend college, Black men comprised less than 6% of the entire U.S. undergraduate population in 2010 (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). According to Toldson (2012), although college enrollment rates for Black men are proportional to Black male representation in the adult U.S. population, college attainment rates fall far short of these numbers. Black men lag behind their female counterparts and other racial and ethnic groups in key educational outcomes (Harper, 2006; Strayhom, 2010); for example, the number of baccalaureate degrees earned by Black females in 2010 was approximately twice that of Black males (66% vs. 34%, respectively), a gap not reflected in other racial groups (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). Additional evidence shows that almost 70% of Black men do not complete a college degree within six years, compared with 57% of the overall undergraduate student population (Harper, 2006).

What accounts for this pattem of African American male educational underachievement? Past literature has often used a deficit-informed framework to answer this question, portraying Black male students as incapable, unintelligent, disadvantaged, and at-risk to fail at best (Fries-Britt, 1997; Harper, 2009; Jenkins, 2006). Such literature feeds stereotypes that have been proven to negatively impact the academic performance and self-efficacy of these students, as well as institutional programming and policy strategies. Some recent scholarship has departed from a deficit-informed orientation by focusing on successful Black male achievers at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), demonstrating that successful Black collegians serve as agents, displaying strong self-efficacy and engagement. They leverage peers, family members, mentors, and spirituality along their journey to success (Bridges, 2010; Harper, 2006, 2009, 2012; Hébert, 2002; Herndon, 2003; Moore, Madison-Colomore, & Smith, 2003; Museus, 2011; Strayhom, 2008; Williamson, 2010).

Contrary to the discourse that highlights the "failure" of African American male students, a recurring theme in the literature of success is the resiliency of Black college males. Educational resiliency refers to the ability of students to succeed academically, despite difficult and challenging life circumstances and risk factors that prevent them from succeeding (Bryan, 2005; Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1997). Researchers who have implemented success-based approaches to examining the academic achievement and attainment of Black school-aged males often arrive at similar findings. For instance, Toldson's (2008) quantitative study of over 5,700 Black schoolaged males, which looked at factors shown to statistically improve educational outcomes for this population, found that many such factors are exactly those identified as important by various resilience theorists. Therefore, the primary objective in this article is to seek out themes that speak to, and explain resiliency, while discussing major developments in research on Black college men. …

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