OVERCOMING ADVERSITY: A CASE STUDY OF EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES AND SUCCESS AMONG AFRICAN AMERICAN MALES AT A TEXAS COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Wade, Jerrel Alen
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Despite increased numbers of African American male students pursuing higher education, their academic levels of achievement continue to lag behind other ethnic and gender groups (NCES, 2003). The gap is even greater at the community college, where dropout and failure rates double those seen among African American males at the four year institutions (U.S. Department of Education, 2004/2009). The purpose of this qualitative study was to help better understand the experience of the African American male community college student and assess the academic, psychological, and social factors that contribute to their success. The goal of this study was not to simply evaluate factors that lead to student success, but to more carefully understand how students make sense of their successes and failures. Using Mason’s (1998) model of African American male urban community college persistence as a conceptual framework, this case study observed the interactions of a group of approximately 21 African American male students during their meetings as part of minority-male initiative program over the course of an entire semester. To gain further insight on the topics and challenges addressed in these group meetings, three students in the program were interviewed at multiple points throughout the semester to provide more detailed accounts of their educational experiences. By following these students closely for an entire academic semester, a holistic view of all factors that aided or handicapped these students’ success was recorded. Results from the study found that factors the students’ cited as most relevant to their success were participation in a mentoring program, peer support, and faculty and academic advisors. Participants cited class completion, pre-college preparation and guidance, and a lack of confidence in their own academic abilities as the major hindrances to their success. The data also revealed that stereotype threat and family involvement could exert either a positive or negative impact on their college experience. Based on these findings, several of the key recommendations for community colleges focus on increasing African American males’ utilization of campus resources and services earlier in their college career. Most students in this study reported that the support services provided by the college were sufficient and helpful. However, students failed to utilize many of these services until after being enrolled for several semesters, which appeared to have a negative impact on their academic success. Findings from this study also suggest the structure of retention programs for African American males should include more one-on-one mentoring sessions. Several students were uncomfortable expressing their individual struggles in a group environment, so it is important for these programs to put efforts in place to create a strong mentor-mentee relationship that encourages individual attention. Collectively, these efforts could help increase the number of African American males that earn a credential or successfully transfer from the community college.