African American Students and the Decision to Attend Doctoral Programs in Higher Education Administration

Article excerpt

Research on the institutional choice of ethnic minority graduate students flourished in the 1990s, however, such studies tended to combine master's and doctoral students with no delineation between the two. Utilizing a national random sample, this study identifies factors that influence African American students' decisions to apply to and attend doctoral programs in higher education administration. Results indicate that respondents are influenced by academic quality, academic infrastructure, institutional sensitivity to students of color, and positive interaction with faculty. Recommendations are offered for translating these findings into effective recruitment efforts.

Research on undergraduate college choice has been voluminous over the last few decades. However, the same cannot be said about the institutional choice of graduate students. Indeed, while interest in undergraduate college choice appeared to peak in the 1970s and 1980s, there is a glaring omission of research on graduate students during that time. This is interesting, given the status generally associated with graduate education. This thought is echoed by Baird (1993), who found that "although graduate education enjoys enormous prestige, it is relatively unexamined and not carefully monitored" (p. 81).

Yet, if the 1970s and the 1980s were the decades of research on college choice of undergraduates, the 1990s may be the decade for such attention on graduate students. A review of articles suggests that the research in this area has gained increasing attention in the last several years (e.g., Kallio, 1995; Talbot, Maier, & Rushlau, 1996; Weiler, 1993).

Such research suggests that to attract adequate numbers of well-qualified students, faculty and administrators in academic programs need to understand why such students apply to and attend specific graduate programs. This need extends beyond ensuring a complete cohort every Fall semester, for programs that have an abundance of qualified applicants are also facing the need for a diversified student body. Clearly, this concern is not new. In 1985, Malaney stated:

[While] survival of graduate studies at many institutions is not a problem at the institutional level . . . it might be at the departmental level. Even if survival is not a concern at either level, because of a sufficient number of students, there may be other recruitment concerns, such as . . . attracting increased numbers of minorities and women. (p. 379)

Clearly, this issue of ethnicity and graduate education has not been neglected in the literature (e.g., Olson, 1992; Penaloza & Gilly, 1991; Webb & Allen, 1994). However, such studies tend to examine only master's students or master's and doctoral students, with no delineation between the two. National studies that address African American doctoral students are clearly missing from the literature. This is surprising given historic enrollment patterns in doctoral education.

A review of enrollment in doctoral programs clearly indicates a slant along ethnic lines, as the majority of doctoral recipients tend to be disproportionately Caucasian. This imbalance is slowing changing, but not for all ethnic groups. Specifically, African Americans have not enjoyed the increase of earned doctoral degrees that have been experienced by other ethnic minority groups. Consider the following data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (1996). During the 1976-1977 academic year, African American students earned 3.8% of all doctoral degrees conferred. This contrasts with those earned by Hispanics and Asian American students at 1.6% and 2.0%, respectively. These proportions changed during the 1984-1985 academic year as doctoral degrees earned by African Americans dropped slightly to 3.6%, yet increased for both Hispanics (2.1%) and Asian Americans (3.4%). African Americans continued to earn relatively fewer doctorates during the 1993-1994 academic year with just 3. …