By Alvina Thomas – Dean of Student Success and Title IX Coordinator at Louisiana Delta Community College
It has become conventional wisdom that attaining a higher education degree gives hope for a better life. Community colleges serve as a pathway for Black students to attain a more advanced education. Approximately 46.6% of Black students attend a two-year institution compared to 42.9% that attend a four-year institution (Staklis, 2010). Specifically, 54.9 % of Black male students will begin their college career at community colleges (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, 2009). However, there is a significant disparity of Black males attaining an associate degree compared to other racial and ethnic groups (Knapp, Kelly-Reid & Ginder, 2011).
As dean of student success services and a Title IX coordinator at Louisiana Delta Community College (LDCC), I am responsible for ensuring we develop students holistically and provide direct support for them. My role is to offer an equitable, inclusive, and safe environment for all students. During the last five years we saw an increase in enrollment, especially among Black males; however, the attainment rate in associate degree programs has decreased.
Supporting the Black male population begins before and after admission and throughout the student enrollment process. Black male students must feel a sense of belonging and have support with difficulties they may encounter in order to attain a degree, prepare to transfer to a four-year university, or move into the workforce. Student engagement by faculty and staff is essential to helping students overcome barriers and maximizing the probability of their success. Additionally, it is essential that community colleges and community leaders work together to support Black male community college students. Mentorship programs within the college and community may be one way to provide students with guidance and support as well as to ensure equitable opportunities (Gibson, 2014).
Community colleges and community leaders should explore ways to provide equitable outcomes that will encourage academic success, promote equity, and increase the graduation rates for Black male college students. LDCC, in Monroe, Louisiana, was selected to receive an Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellowship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through the Office of Community Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) based on the college’s large number of completers and high attainment rates. With further data analysis and research, some of my colleagues and I realized we can do more to accelerate positive outcomes to increase Black male student attainment rates.
Our college assembled its first Black Male Equity Roundtable comprised of community business leaders, faith-based leaders, K-12 administrators, and community college faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The roundtable provided an opportunity to discuss strategies for reducing barriers for degree attainment within the LDCC’s Black male population. Samuel Speed, dean of student engagement & undergraduate recruitment at Louisiana Tech University, served as the keynote speaker and gave a powerful overview of the barriers of degree attainment for minoritized students. He also shared the unique challenges Black male students face before and upon enrollment based on his experiences and research. Roundtable discussions centered on three main questions:
- What are strategies for recruiting Black males to the community colleges?
- When Black males enroll, what are the persistence challenges they face during their college career?
- What equity-minded policies and procedures can community colleges implement to support the yearly retention of Black male students?
The day ended with a panel that facilitated discussions driven by questions assigned to each roundtable, with participants discussing challenges and recommendations. Topics included having a work-life balance such as the need for child care assistance, transportation to campus, and choosing courses that coordinate with real life. Participants’ dialogue highlighted the need for advising, financial assistance, tutoring, and support to help students stay motivated. To address these challenges, attendees identified common themes from each question. Several recurring themes included creating an environment where Black male students strive for success by establishing an ambassador-mentor program or organization to encourage student achievement by increasing students’ confidence; educating Black male students to “navigate” community college; and helping students realize the “silver lining” of their hard work.
Another recurring theme led to the recommendation of training college peer mentors to support students and encourage their natural competitiveness with one another as a motivational tool. Lastly, participants discussed ways to encourage higher education enrollment through community colleges and identify relatable ways to engage Black males. Participants suggested promoting community colleges as early as middle school through branding, posters, and career fairs, as well as establishing partnerships with corporations that are committed to diversity.
Ultimately, the roundtable confirmed that collaboration with community leaders to support minoritized student populations is vital. We have challenges before us, but the expected outcomes of investing in the Black male student population is worth our investment of time and resources. Through this community college initiative at LDCC, we look forward to hearing from and sharing with community partners how to best facilitate partnerships to alleviate gaps in the retention of the Black male student population.
Gibson, Y. B. (2014). The impact of mentoring programs for African American male community college students. Journal of Mason Graduate Research 1 (2), 70-82.
Staklis, S. (2010). Web tables- Profile of undergraduate students: Trends from selected years. 1995-96 to 2007-08 (NCES) 2010-220). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education.
Knapp, L., Kelly-Reid, J., & Ginder, S. (2011). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions, Fall 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
U.S. Department of Education (2004/2009). Black student enrollment by sector and control, gender 2003. Beginning Postsecondary Longitudinal Study-PowerStats. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.