Do They See Us? Understanding How Organizational Leadership Impacts Black College Student Outcomes: A Multi-Method Case Study



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Background: Black college students have long experienced wide racialized disparities in degree completion. The issue of Black college student degree attainment has implications for the present and the future of higher education—and the entire nation.11.6 million new jobs were developed from 2009 to 2016 and 99 percent of those jobs were afforded to persons with at least some college education. To prevent deficits of college-educated workers needed to sustain both the national economy and international competitive standing of the United States, we will have to address the wide racial gaps in completion across the nation. At the campus level, institutional leaders play a significant role in developing and implementing policy interventions that aim to increase college completion, making it important to examine organizational efforts and resulting approaches that proclaim to improve student outcomes. Purpose: The purpose of this research was to examine how one institution developed and implemented a campus-wide strategy to improve degree completion and understand how this strategy impacted Black student outcomes. Two central research questions guided this investigation: 1) What was involved in the institutional-level policy development processes of Urban University campus leaders as they set out to introduce a campus-wide completion strategy? And, to what extent did they specifically consider Black student completion during this process? 2) To what extent does participation in the policy intervention affect the likelihood of degree completion for Black students at the Urban University? Methods: A multi-method case study approach was used to examine the institution’s policy process and organizational approach to implementing a completion-focused intervention and the impact of this 15 to Finish modeled initiative on Black student degree attainment at a large, moderately selective, urban institution. Guided by theoretical notions of organizational theory, qualitative methods—specifically, semi-structured interview techniques—were used to explore the policy process surrounding the initiative. Interview data was collected from nine campus leaders, including senior-level administrators, faculty, and staff involved with the planning, implementation, or management of the program. A logistic regression analysis was used to examine the likelihood of degree completion for Black program participants. The quantitative sample was comprised the 4,048 students in the 2014-2015 cohort of full-time, first time in college (FTIC) students at Urban University. Findings: The findings of the study reveal several key themes associated with the institution’s policy process, including the organization’s generalized focus on completion, the resources required to advance a 15 to Finish model, and how the implementation of such models shift campus cultures. Additionally, the results of the logistic regression analysis suggest that while the program increased the likelihood of completion for students generally, it did not impact outcomes for Black students specifically. Conclusion: The findings of this research point toward a need for increased racial consideration in organizational leadership and institutional policy development. While Black students often benefit from policies that are not explicitly racialized, the findings from this analysis lend support to the notion that equitable completion outcomes require clear attention to race as a factor in implementing scalable strategies.



Black, African American, College, Higher Education, Postsecondary, Leadership, Policy, Degree Completion, Student Success, Graduation