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If You Can Walk, You Can Dance; If You Can Talk, You Can Sing: A Successful African American Doctoral Fellowship Program. – book reviews

Time out, higher education. This book has a proven model for increasing the pool of African Americans with doctorate degrees in non-traditional courses of study. With valuable resource information, this book has special importance for the administrators of traditionally white colleges and universities who are sincerely interested in providing a positive campus climate for African-American students to experience success in doctoral programs.


The authors, S. David Stamps and Israel Tribble Jr., have provided a wealth of data to document the value of the McKnight Model, a program developed by the Florida Education Fund in 1984 that has as its purpose producing African-American Ph.Ds.


With no fewer than forty academic-related issues addressed in this study, the authors have proposed a structure for the reform of undergraduate education to function as formalized preparation for the post-graduate experience. Progressive activities in the formalized structure are discussed for each level of undergraduate study.


The intended outcome of such a structure is that students will view the bachelor’s degree not as a terminal experience but as a stepping stone toward graduate study, with the student’s ultimate goal being the doctorate degree. This concept is worthy of attention because it is projected that by the year 2000 approximately 50 percent of the current higher education faculty will retire. African Americans will be increasingly sought for faculty positions.


Unfortunately, there is an imbalance between the availability of African Americans with doctoral degrees and the need for them — especially in areas such as science, mathematics and engineering. Most of the doctoral degrees earned by African-American students have been in education.


It is recognized that higher education has not responded to the higher graduation rates of African-American high school students. Of all racial/ethnic groups, African Americans have shown the most significant decrease in college degrees conferred. This is partly due to the decrease of African-American males in higher education, especially considering the high rates of incarceration. In 1977, college participation by African Americans peaked. But between 1978 and 1988, there was a 22 percent decrease in doctoral degrees for African Americans and a 47 percent decrease among African-American males.


The McKnight Program has a “tried and proven” workable solution to the problem. Since its inception in 1984, the McKnight Program has gained national attention for its recruitment, retention and graduation of African-American doctoral students in degree programs other than in the field of education. The McKnight fellows are recruited nationally, although the largest number is from Florida.

The gender breakdown of McKnight Fellows is interesting, with its higher percentage of males than females. Notice must be made, therefore, that not only does the McKnight Black Doctoral Fellowship Program increase the pool of African-American doctorates, but in so doing, also it is responding to the critical shortage of African-American males in the higher education system.


The principal text of the book is built around data which compare McKnight Fellows with non-McKnight students. The data was collected in two ways: McKnight Fellows received a direct mailing of questionnaires; and non-McKnight students were contacted through a “point person” at the respective graduate school. All of the doctoral students in the survey were matriculating at Florida universities. Through tables and discussions, comparative data are presented for the two groups on demographics, educational characteristics, recruitment, financial support, professional development, support systems, and institutional quality.


Many of the factors examined showed no significant difference between McKnight Fellows and non-McKnight students. This was noted in the areas of background characteristics, pre-doctoral educational experiences, families, attitudes, opinions and personality traits. Despite the many similarities, it was shown that the McKnight Fellows were more persistent in staying in the doctoral program to graduation, had a higher grade point average (GPA) in the doctoral program, and pursued degrees in natural and applied sciences.


The McKnight Doctoral Fellowship (MDF) Program, designed with special features to specifically address the needs of African-American doctoral students, makes the difference. The needs addressed by the MDF model are not new revelations. They are well known, but have been ignored by higher education. As shown in this study, the MDF Program recruited from among the same pool of students as the non-McKnight students. Both groups were from urban communities, identified themselves as being from “working class” families, most attended historically Black colleges and universities, and there were no significant differences in grade point averages between the two groups in either undergraduate or graduate school. McKnight Fellows were not “special recruits” already possessing certain advantages which we tend to associate with academic persistence and performance.


It cannot be overlooked that the McKnight Fellows are some of the best funded graduate students in the country — and this makes a difference. In cooperation with participatory universities, the MDF Program provides full financial support for five years.


This type of financial support addresses the issue that African Americans often do not complete their degrees because of inadequate funds in the later years of study. It can be assumed that with such financial support, the student has more time for study and has less or no need for an outside job while in school. However, this was not addressed in the study. It would be of interest to know how the McKnight Fellows and the non-McKnight students spent their out-of-class time, particularly as related to use for studying. According to data presented, there were three demographic characteristics which were significantly different.


The highest percentage of McKnight Fellows were single, male and younger than the non-McKnight students. We know that the predominant presence of the African-American male in higher education and especially at the doctoral level is not the national trend. Thus, this could signal to us that the African-American male just needs “access to opportunity,” such provided by the MDF Program, and he will also have a greater presence in higher education.


A notable feature of the MDF Program is the strong advisement support system, which includes: orientation for new Fellows, an annual conference, a mid-year 1, conference, designated campus liaison persons, program officials at the Florida Education Fund, and faculty advisers. There are positive spin-offs from this enhanced protective climate. If the McKnight Fellow should experience a problem, there are several sources of advisement.


The orientation conference helps in knowing what to expect in a doctoral program. The annual and mid-year conferences help to keep the McKnight Fellow focused and on track. The conferences are opportunities for bonding, networking, interacting with peers, and building people-skills. Thus, it is not surprising that the data presented show a significant difference in McKnight Fellows having a greater satisfaction or a more positive attitude toward support systems, networking and bonding. Additionally, McKnight Fellows have a travel allowance to attend professional meetings and conferences. This broadens their contacts in the professional arena and provides more in the way of potential sites of employment after completion of the degree. As a result, the data show that two-thirds of the McKnight Fellows graduates received three to eight job offers.


However, something in the data may imply an obscure problem that was not addressed. Both groups showed higher percentages in “satisfaction” that faculty in their program and their university were willing to provide assistance when needed. But, both groups showed higher percentages in “dissatisfaction” for the level of interaction they had with faculty in their major area of study. Also, almost 20 percent of both groups indicated dissatisfaction with the quality of advice they had been provided while planning their program. Nevertheless, both groups were satisfied with their academic programs. It appears that something else is involved with faculty/student relations and student expectations. More information would be desirable.


Role models and mentors were important to both groups. The role models were more likely to be African American and the mentors more likely to be white. Some indicated role models were faculty from another university and non-faculty who were highly regarded in education. In that most of the students in both groups graduated from a historically Black college, questions arise as to whether these faculty from “another university” were from the Black colleges, and to what extent were the nonfaculty African American.


The latter has implications as to the level of recognition students give to African Americans in higher education. We can also wonder to what extent do doctoral students have an opportunity to know African Americans highly regarded in higher education — beyond those with whom they have immediate contact. What does the student consider as a standard of “highly regarded”?p Connectedness to a campus is strengthened by students’ involvement in campus organizations and activities. The authors showed that members of both groups were in two to three organizations in their undergraduate institutions and about half of each group was actively involved in professional organizations during doctoral study. Maybe this is a transfer of interest from the undergraduate years. It is not clear to what extent the doctoral students participated in campus organizations and local activities. It was noted that no significant difference existed in interaction with other students to study and solve problems, sharing course-related information with other students, and current grade point average.


This book clearly and explicitly sets forth the premise, and supports with valid documentation, that the structure and support system provided in the McKnight Doctoral Fellows Program makes the positive difference in the production of African-American doctorates in non-traditional studies.


Dr. Clinita Arnsbyy Ford is the founder and director of the National Higher Education Conference on Black Student Retention.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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