By 2020, President Barack Obama envisions America leading the world in producing college graduates; however, achieving such a goal may be easier said than done as the achievement gap continues to widen between blacks and whites. Though enrollment rates for African American students in degree-granting institutions has increased from 11.3% in 2000 to 13.1% in 2007, black men are trailing black women, white men, and white women in attaining their bachelor’s degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the academic year 2006–2007 only 33.9% of black males earned degrees, while 66.1% of black females, 56.3% of white females, and 43.7% of white males earned degrees.
The challenges that exist for black men in higher education led Charlita Shelton, Ph.D., president of the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to conduct a qualitative study on the persistence and graduation rates of black men in undergraduate degree programs. Shelton focused on 15 nontraditional black male students, average age of 35, after realizing there was a lack of data on adult learners. Typically, the prerequisite for a qualitative methodology sample is 10 to 12 interviewees. Currently, the number of traditional students, ages 18–22, outpaces the number of nontraditional students, 25 and older; however, NCES has predicted that between 2006 and 2017, there will be a rise of 19% in enrollment of older students, and only 10% for people under 25.
The results of Shelton’s study outlined several factors that need to be in place for black men to complete their undergraduate degrees: self-determination, family support, positive instructor influence, and financial or positive academic counselor influence. “The self-determination factor was the No.1 key point from the study,” says Shelton. “The first time these men entered school at the traditional age, they weren’t really focused or were more interested in starting a career. I would say that upward career mobility and family support drove them to completing their degree the second or even third time.” Higher education institutions also play an important role in the matriculation of black males, notes the study. Extensive orientation for new students, counseling services, tutoring centers, and mentoring programs are all essential for retention, Shelton’s research found.
Discussing the factors that lead to higher graduation rates and exposing black students to those factors as early as their freshmen year in high school can help increase matriculation, Shelton suggests. Furthermore, the attitude needs to change among