Black scholar at UPenn looks at the positive and finds solutions
The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, a new center at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, has released its inaugural report, “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education: A Report from the National Black Male College Achievement Study.”
Shaun Harper, the center’s director and a professor at Penn GSE in West Philadelphia, examined Black male undergraduate students who did well and maximized their college experiences.
Harper studied how these students overcame hurdles that typically disadvantage their peers and amassed portfolios of experiences that made them competitive for internships, jobs and admission to highly selective graduate and professional schools.
Harper interviewed 219 Black male achievers at 42 public and private historically Black colleges and universities, liberal arts colleges, public and highly selective private research universities and comprehensive state universities in 20 states.
Rather than studying their success from a “deficit model,” Harper conducted his research based on an “anti-deficit achievement framework.” Instead of looking at what went wrong, Harper looked at what factors and institutional practices enabled the achievers to succeed.
The study examined topics like selecting a college, paying for college, making the transition to college, engagement while in college and responding productively to racism.
“Despite all that is stacked against them — low teacher expectations, insufficient academic preparation for college-level work, racist and culturally unresponsive campus environments — Black males still find ways to succeed. For nearly a decade, I’ve argued that those who are interested in Black male student success have much to learn from Black men who have actually been successful,” Harper said in the report.
“But, the most surprising finding was also the most disappointing finding — nearly every student we interviewed said it was the first time that someone had sat him down and asked how he had successfully navigated his way to and through higher education, what compelled him to be engaged and what he learned that could help improve achievement and engagement among Black male collegians.”
Harper noted the importance that family and parental influence had on the students.
For instance, the overwhelming majority of students always knew that they would attend college because of their parents and family members always talked about it. Study participants also remembered at least one influential teacher who helped to solidify interest in attending college at an early age.
Several achievers shared how their high school guidance counselors more often did more harm than good. As an example, participants indicated that their guidance counselors suggested that applying to elite private institutions was “pointless, because they stood no chance of being admitted,” or hinted that attending a historically Black college or university might disadvantage them in some way. Most of the counselors were white, Harper said.
In the study, Harper explored the role of structured mentoring and college transition programs, the value and critiques about historically Black fraternities, the students’ views of religion and spirituality, perspectives on masculinity and collegial and romantic relationships with Black women. He found that active engagement inside and outside the classroom specifically helps Black undergraduate men to stay on a successful path.
Harper makes several recommendations for improving Black male college student success, including equipping parents with knowledge about higher education, preparing K–12 and post-secondary professionals, connecting Black male teens to effective college preparatory experiences, removing financial barriers to college success, establishing successful transitional programs, addressing toxic racial climates on campus, creating venues for brotherly bonding and peer support and establishing affirming spaces for gay, bisexual and questioning students.
The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education unites scholars from schools of education and other academic departments who conduct research on race, racism, campus racial climates and topics pertaining to equity in education.
Study ranks schools as winners, losers
On the heels of the recent college football Bowl Championship Series rankings, University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education has announced the results of its four-year study of athletes and racial inequities in college sports. It ranked the winners and losers on graduating Black male student-athletes successfully.
The report also outlines proven game-changing strategies for stakeholders ranging from the NCAA to journalists to the athletes themselves.
“While the graduation disparities were not surprising, what was surprising was the astounding pervasiveness and depth of the disparities, as well as the fact that institutional leaders, the NCAA and athletic conference commissioners have not done more in response to them,” said Shaun Harper, the report’s lead author.
“Research has yielded clear strategies for Black male student-athlete success – however, there needs to be the institutional will to implement these simple, and often low-cost, solutions – as well as accountability from the media and the athletes themselves.”
The champion institution was Northwestern University, with an impressive graduation rate of 83 percent for its Black male student-athletes – well above the average undergraduate rate for all schools studied, regardless of race, of 72.8 percent. In second place was the University of Notre Dame at 81 percent, a school which prides itself on its high student-athlete graduation rates.
Tied for third, Villanova University and Penn State University had a 78 percent graduation rate. On average, 50.2 percent of Black male student-athletes graduated within six years.
“The number one goal we have for every student-athlete is a Northwestern degree, and we're pleased that the data reflects our success in accomplishing that,” said University vice president for athletics and recreation Jim Phillips.
“We're here to provide a world-class experience –- academically, athletically and socially – for our student-athletes while they're on campus, and prepare each of them for life beyond graduation.”
The data were gathered from 76 colleges and universities that comprise six major sports conferences: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC. These conferences routinely win NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball championships, with millions at stake for their institutions.
The data followed cohorts from 2007-2010 and demonstrated, with only a few exceptions, that most of the universities studied have weak graduation rates for their Black male student-athletes, by almost any measure. Topping the list of the 10 universities with lowest Black male student-athlete graduation rates is Iowa State University, with a meager 30 percent of its Black student-athletes graduating. University of South Florida, University of Arizona and University of Arkansas were close behind with a 31 percent graduation rate.
“The percentage of Black men that composes the ranks of student-athletes gives us reason to pause and incentive to look further,” said Wharton Sports Business Initiative director and professor of legal studies and business ethics Kenneth L. Shropshire.
“Intercollegiate athletics provide college opportunity to young Black men and take them off the streets, or major sports programs take advantage of these students without serious care for their personal and academic success. They can’t both be right, can they?”
Between 2007 and 2010, Black men were 2.8 percent of full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students, but 57.1 percent of football teams and 64.3 percent of basketball teams.
“The authors provide data that are necessary to improve student-athlete success and develop policies that address longstanding racial inequities in college sports,” Shropshire said. “This study provides statistical insights into problems that are in need of accountability and policy response.”