Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Flaws in Fellowships: Institutional Support Essential to Boosting Number of African American Doctoral Students

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Flaws in Fellowships: Institutional Support Essential to Boosting Number of African American Doctoral Students

Article excerpt

Flaws In Fellowships: Institutional Support Essential to Boosting. Number of African American Doctoral Students

by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Despite a growing pool of Black college graduates and an increasing number of graduate programs targeting them for advanced study, American colleges and universities have failed to increase significantly the number of African Americans holding doctorates.

Although there are dozens of federal, corporate and institutional programs dedicated to boosting the number of minority doctoral students, colleges and universities have not focused enough resources on supporting promising Black graduate students through the lengthy doctoral process, some observers say.

Many of the programs are piecemeal and rely too heavily on funding from fellowships, instead of more desirable teaching and research assistantships, according to Dr. Frank L. Morris, dean of the graduate school at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

"The whole approach of some of the major programs is from the standpoint that the major problem of low minority doctorates is the [limited number of candidates in the] pipeline," Morris said. "Clearly there are two things which really account for the lack of doctorates. One is the way the financing works that forces African Americans and Hispanics to go into debt. The second explanation is the departmental practices that" limit opportunities for minority students.

Drop in Degrees

The number of African American students earning bachelor's degrees rose from 58,636 in 1976-77 to more than 71,000 in 1991-92, according to preliminary U.S. Department of Education statistics. Although the number of master's degrees conferred on Black students dropped from 21,037 to 17,379 during that same period, the number has gradually increased from a low of almost 14,000 in 1986-87. Doctorates have not recovered. Only 951 of the more than 25,759 doctoral degrees awarded in 1992 went to Blacks, a 9-percent decline from 10 years earlier. The number of Black males earning doctorates declined more than 20 percent during that same period.

The number of doctoral degrees awarded to Hispanics and Native Americans rose in recent years. According to preliminary statistics, nearly 800 Hispanics earned doctorates in 1991-92, compared to 522 in 1976-77. During that same period, the number of Native Americans earning doctorates rose from 95 to 118.

"We just did a very bad job of increasing the number of students we steered toward post-baccalaureate study. The programs [to increase the number of Black Ph.D.s] have not been particularly effective," said Dr. Ansley Abraham, a senior associate with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). "There are some very good programs out there, but overall we just haven't made an impact."

Some of the programs have concentrated on traditional recruitment standards that often exclude potential Black students, according to Dr. Robert Ibarra, an assistant dean of minority programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Institutions need to restructure admissions criteria to better evaluate a student's potential for success at the graduate level.

"There are students available to get into the pipeline. We have to re-evaluate those systems of evaluation," he said. "That doesn't mean to diminish our standards. We need to look for factors for predicting success we haven't used in the past."

Graduate admissions officials should look at a student's overall academic performance, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities, Ibarra said.

Broadening criteria is the only way to increase the pool from which graduate students are selected, said Deborah J. Carter of the American Council on Education.

"Very often what we see are programs that only look at a certain profile of students...they graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, they went to Ivy League institutions, they have all the indicators of success for graduate school," she said. …

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