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Perceived Factors that Contribute to Low Persistent Rates of Minority Males in Community Colleges

Left to right: Shantay Grays, Dr. Art Tyler and Dr. Cheryl SterlingLeft to right: Shantay Grays, Dr. Art Tyler and Dr. Cheryl Sterling

There is significant emphasis placed on the retention and success rate in community colleges among African-American and Hispanic males. Many are experiencing great problems in our society and within the social structure.

It is common knowledge that community colleges are growing by leaps and bounds, spurred on by the persistence of an economic downturn. Therefore, even with most colleges increasing enrollment, an emerging question is: How effective are community colleges in coping with minority males in retaining them in their institutions through graduation, specifically, by implementing several male initiatives and minority programs that links to the urban high schools: secondary and post- secondary schools?

Many African-American and Hispanic males experience academic distress in community colleges and have frequently been described in research studies as: (a) being from a low social academic background; (b) being a minimal academic achiever; and (c) possessing a general low self-concept. The fact is a large number face depressed socio-economic conditions. In contrast, a number of minority males drop out of community colleges after demonstrating average and above-average academic ability; yet, they make the decision to discontinue their education in most institutions of higher of learning.

Major research efforts have identified a number of factors that tend to impact minority males’ decision to drop or even stop-out of community colleges. Researchers have concluded that the nuclear family, peer groups, community, family-friend system and the school itself are all significant influences that have the potential to contribute to the minority male enigma. Minority male dropout is horrific and institutions need to revise many of their strategies. However, the literature is replete with speculations for this dilemma — that minority males drop out of community colleges for a multitude of reasons.

Recently, renewed attention has been given to minority males, as it relates to dropping out of higher educational institutions. However, a substantial number of minority males are dropping out before graduating and never return to an educational setting. In the community college, minority student degree persistence rates are low with only 14 percent of African-American students and 15 percent of Hispanic students earn a degree or certificate within 3 years. Furthermore, Complete College America states that here in Texas, the outlook is even more dismal with only 9 percent of African-Americans and 11 percent of Hispanics at a community college meeting this goal in the same timeframe. This leaves institutions frantically seeking the salient factors that may be contributing to this dilemma. Some of the reasons discovered include peer pressure, family conflict, low academic achievement, low self-esteem and other economic factors.

Community colleges serve as the gateway to higher education access for millions of Americans. However, despite the pivotal role these institutions play in promoting social equity, they continue to struggle with low persistence and completion rates, particularly among male students of color. The accessibility and relatively low cost of community colleges make them especially appealing to low-income students of color and first generation college students. Unfortunately, research shows that far too few of these students succeed. African-American and Hispanic males are among those students most at risk of failing to graduate from high school and succeed in college. Low levels of engagement in college and lack of academic success among male students of color are persistent concerns among community college administrators, faculty and staff; consequently, institutions are seeking ways to reach out to this population and offer programs that enhance their educational development.

However, some of the contextual and social problems that many minority male students face while enrolled in higher education programs have led to strategies implemented by community colleges in an effort to increase engagement, persistence and completion rates among this declining student population.

During the last five years, enrollment at community colleges has increased significantly, in some cases by as much as 40 percent. Community college administrators attribute this enrollment growth to the recent economic downturn. As more institutions experience increased enrollment, the question that emerges is: How effective are community colleges in facilitating increased retention rates among minority males in their institutions? More specifically, what types of programs are being implemented to support the academic development and success of minority males, and how effective are these programs in providing a seamless transition from secondary to post-secondary educational experiences?

In light of this problem, Houston Community College (HCC) has instituted a Minority Males Initiative (MMI), which provides a systematic approach to ensure that programs are centrally focused on increasing the college-going rates of African-American and Latino males. Each of the MMI programs are intentionally designed to address the disparate retention rates of minority males at the institution. All of the initiatives and programs focus on “college access and success” and seek to engage and promote student involvement, thereby, establishing a college-bound culture within the community of program participants.

One example of the many programs the college has implemented is the Summer STEM Academy, the purpose of which is to engage cohorts of African-American and Latino males from local middle and high schools. The six-week program offers hands-on demonstrations in robotics, solar and renewable energy and digital gaming and communications. Approximately 600 young minority males have participated in the many programs offered by HCC since the program was initially implemented in 2009.

Additional components of the Minority Male Initiative include: an annual MMI leadership conference: dual credit and student development workshops, advising, mentoring, health and wellness, financial literacy, parent workshops and the Men of Honor Collegiate student organization, annual College and Career Symposium, the annual MMI Art Exhibit, college-bound informational workshops and the annual Minority Male Initiative Golf Tournament fundraiser, which has raised approximately $480,000 since 2009.

Another aspect of the MMI involves annual gatherings of business and community leaders who recognize the need to increase minorities in STEM fields. Many of the partnerships are independent schools, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Dow Chemical, Community and Schools, State Farm, 100 Black Men, Project Grad and NASA.

Minority males dropping out of community colleges cut across sociological, psychological and physiological lines, and the literature is lacking in regard to the perceived influence of demographic variables on the factors that affect minority males in dropping out of institutions. Although community colleges have traditionally sought to democratize education and extend educational access and success to underrepresented males, it is evident that there is still much work to do when attempting to enroll and retain them in most institutions of higher learning. According to Lorenzo L. Esters, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities vice president and Minority Males in Stem Initiative project director, “A great deal of work remains to be done at all levels of the educational pipeline, however, the opportunities for improving outcomes are limitless.”

Dr. Art Tyler is deputy chancellor, Dr. Cheryl Sterling is associate vice chancellor of Student Success and Shantay Grays is chief of staff at Houston Community College.

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