Monday, February 6, 2012

Modeling Black Male Acheivement

Today, Inside Higher Ed features a study released by Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Because so much is known about why Black men fail at the college level, Dr. Shaun Harper wanted to find out why they succeed. This method is valuable because when examining failure, studies focus on the factors that cause it. Now, we can find out the reasons for and hopefully replicate their successes.

Two hundred and nineteen black men at various institutions all over the country (examples include Harvard, Stanford, Florida A&M, Howard, Amherst, Williams, and Cal State Long Beach) showing significant achievement participated in the study.

The study found that it was not their socioeconomic backgrounds that differentiated them from the larger group or high-school academic records that distinguished them. Rather factors such as familial expectations, the interest and support of at least one K-12 teacher, financial and program support. Importantly, the programs both facilitated the transition to college and established high expectations of the students' college tenure.  Another factor, highlighted by Harper is a personal experience that allowed him to "see [him]self as a student, and set [him] on a completely different educational trajectory."

Some of the recommendations the study makes to policy makers are to develop programs that bridge the high school to college transition, make institutions share accountability for black male success, support ethnic student organizations, and remove financial barriers. He also argues that putting changes into practice will need to occur on a college-by-college basis.

This study is enlightening and perhaps equally "obvious" and straightforward questions need to be asked about increasing representation of African Americans (both male and female) at the faculty/professional level.  Along these lines, we are doing more than encouraging and enabling them to be good students and student leaders. Rather, we are looking for them to not only be successful but also demanding that they be regarded and accepted as peers. How different or similar might the issues and interventions be?

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