institutions and the general community that once students get to college, all work is complete, says Hal Smith Ed.D., vice president of education and youth development for the National Urban League. “You have an obligation to these students to graduate them.”
The profile of today’s college student also needs to be updated, says Smith. “An increasing number of students attend part time, do online learning, and take courses when they have money rather than attending eight consecutive semesters. Yet many financial aid models and degree programs are still based on the four-year model.” Bryant T. Marks, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology and director of the Morehouse Male Initiative at Morehouse College in Atlanta, says he agrees with Shelton’s concluding factors for adult learners, but emphasizes that the experience and motivation for attending school differs for a traditional college student versus a nontraditional college student. “[Nontraditional students] see directly how getting a degree will improve their quality of life professionally and personally, whereas traditional college students don’t see it that way in an immediate sense,” he says.
Marks is researching the development of the traditional college-aged black male over the course of their matriculation at four-year institutions. He and his team plan to provide online surveys to 30 colleges and universities nationwide—15 HBCUs and 15 predominantly white institutions. In the fall of 2009, the team collected data from 343 incoming freshmen nationwide and intend to collect from 500 graduating seniors during spring semester this year.
The limited number of black males with undergraduate degrees is likely to shrink the pool of those qualified to eventually lead corporations. “Almost all senior leaders in my organization have their undergraduate or graduate degrees, and that’s a trend I don’t see reversing itself,” comments Ancella B. Livers, Ph.D., executive director of the Executive Leadership Council’s Institute for Leadership Development & Research in Alexandria, Virginia. 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.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.