Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Giving Back to the Community: How African Americans Envision Utilizing Their PhD

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Giving Back to the Community: How African Americans Envision Utilizing Their PhD

Article excerpt

Diversity is a compelling topic in higher education (e.g., Chang et al., 2003; Gurin et al., 2002). Despite its significance, scholars have paid little attention to the role of diversity in graduate education (Garces, 2014; Orfield, 2014; Posselt, 2014). Although articles and policy briefs were generated during the two highly publicized U.S. Supreme Court cases that focused on affirmative action admission policies in professional degree programs (Orfield, 2014; Weisbuch, 2005), the role of diversity in PhD programs garnered little attention. It remains unclear what works and what does not work in recruiting and retaining doctoral students of color (Weisbuch, 2005). This is especially true in regard to the PhD degree attainment of African American students.

African Americans make up approximately 13.6% of the U.S. population, but in 2010 only 7.4% of the PhDs granted were awarded to African American recipients (Langdon et al., 2011; National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). The majority of those degrees were awarded in education leaving large disparities in science-related fields that have been determined essential for prosperity, security, health, environment, and quality of life (Orfield, 2014). This has had a devastating impact on the African American community. Stanfield (1990) refers to PhD recipients as "knowledge producers" that have the power to shape knowledge and disseminate ideas about African Americans within mainstream society. Without their presence, the chances of changing the rhetoric about dysfunctional African American families decrease, scientific racism in the form of intellectual testing is less likely to be challenged, and the belief that African Americans can enter the prestigious class of intellectuals residing in postsecondary institutions diminishes (Johnson, 2005; Stanfield, 1990). In essence, the PhD provides a pathway to ameliorating forms of discrimination that have affected African Americans for centuries.

In addition to enriching quality of life for African Americans, increasing diversity in graduate education will benefit all citizens. According to a Council of Graduate Schools report on Graduate Education and the Public Good, having a large pool of citizens with advanced degrees strengthens our ability to solve increasingly complex problems present in our everchanging world (Council of Graduate Schools, 2008). Having more citizens from varied backgrounds with advanced degrees will increase their presence in every sector of society providing opportunities for them to use their initiative, drive and talent to advance the economy, strengthen health initiatives and enhance communities through arts, humanities and social sciences (Council of Graduate Schools, 2008). Finally, an increased graduate populace increases society's chance of maintaining higher standards of living, including more effective national security (Council of Graduate Schools, 2008). These benefits warrant research focused on increasing the understanding of the factors that influence African Americans to pursue the PhD.

Researchers often concentrate on the reasons African Americans do not attend graduate degree programs. For example, lack of employment upon graduation, the high cost of tuition, and more lucrative work opportunities have all been documented as reasons why African Americans do not pursue the degree (Bedard & Herman, 2008; Kim & Eyermann, 2006; Millett, 2003; Perna, 2004). But the factors that affect enrollment are less known. We know that for all students undergraduate institution attended (Eide, Brewer, & Ehrenberg, 1998; Mullen, Goyette, & Soares, 2003; Walpole, 2003), accessibility to financial aid or indebtedness (Millett, 2003; Nevill & Chen, 2007; Price, 2004), relationships with peers and faculty (Brown & Davis, 2001; King & Chepyator-Thomson, 1996; Perna, 2001), and career aspirations (Anderson & Swazey, 1998; Stoecker, 1991) influence graduate school enrollment in general. …

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