Ten Schools in Six States: Best Practices for the Graduation of Black Students

Ten Schools in Six States: Best Practices for the Graduation of Black Students

Shanna Elaine Smith (The University of West Georgia, USA), Matt D. Varga (The University of West Georgia, USA) and Jay Lambert (University of Houston-Victoria, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4108-1.ch005
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Despite an increase of access for Students of Color in higher education in the United States over the past 20 years, institutions continue to fail Black student populations as evidenced by sustained low graduation rates. This chapter examines ten institutions recognized by Harper and Simmons as being among the institutions that graduate a higher percentage of Black students when compared to their majority counterparts. Additional data were gathered via institutional websites, public reports, and interviews with administrators at various campuses. Graduation rates for Black students, institutional type, student affairs and academic programs, and campus-wide initiatives are discussed within each institution. An institutional understanding of barriers to graduating Students of Color was a key factor in Black student success, followed by responding to those barriers through institutional collaboration and programming, and an institutional appreciation of diversity, equity, and inclusion were also found to be common practices among each of these highlighted institutions.
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In response to the changing demographics in the United States, Higher education is becoming increasingly diverse. Between 1990 and 2010, Student of Color enrollment increased from 2.5 million to 3.9 million (Hossler & Bontrager, 2015). Specifically examining Black student enrollment, their enrollment increased from 25.4% in 1990 to 38.4% in 2010 (Hossler & Bontrager, 2015). However, despite an improvement in initial enrollment numbers, Black student populations also maintain the highest rates for low academic performance and stopping out (Heisserer & Perette, 2002; Mungo, 2017; O’Keefe, 2013). Studies have found that United States’ colleges and universities are failing its’ communities of color because of the lack of success in graduating much of its’ Student of Color populations, specifically Black students (Benitez et al., 2017; Shapiro, 2008). Black students are the least likely to graduate, followed by Latinx students (45.9% and 55%) when compared to their White counterparts (67.2%) (Shapiro et al., 2017).

Tinto (2010) found students enter higher educational institutions with a variety of identities/characteristics (i.e., gender, race, academic aptitude and achievement, family socioeconomic background, and parental educational levels) that affect their initial commitment toward the higher educational institution, engagement during their educational experience, and successful attainment of degree or certification. The more faculty, counselors, and support programs to which Students of Color have access, and the more frequently these are available, the more likely these students are to persist, succeed academically, and graduate from colleges and universities (Banks & Dohy, 2019; Tovar, 2015). However, Dulabaum (2016) states that multiple barriers exist for Students of Color, particularly Black students, in gaining access to resources which could help them navigate toward graduation. Institutions of higher education must address any barriers they have in retaining Black student populations to halt systemic barriers for Black students, and to improve equitable outcomes in graduation rates (Banks & Dohy, 2019).

To address this disparity in graduation rates of Black students when compared to White students, the authors examined the various academic and student support resources within 10 universities that have been identified by Harper and Simmons (2019) as exemplars in graduating Black student populations. The best programmatic and institutional practices for faculty, staff, and administration were identified at these noted institutions in hopes of creating a synopsis of best-practices for increasing Black student graduation rates. Information was collected via Harper and Simmons’ (2019) 50 States Report, institutional websites, and by interviewing administrators. These institutions were selected from Harper and Simmons’ (2019) list based upon which had a higher percentage of Black students graduated compared to the institutions’ majority populations. The authors identified 10 institutions as being among the top institutions that graduated a higher percentage of Black students compared to their majority counterparts: Fitchburg State University, City University New York York College, Coastal Carolina University, Georgia Southern, Georgia State University, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, State University of Old Westbury, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, University of Texas at San Antonio, and University of West Georgia. The authors conducted an examination in the areas of strategic planning, advising, mentoring, diversity and inclusion, experiential learning, academic programming, and financial support, which helped the authors glean information about how these institutions not only retain, but also graduate their Black student populations. The following is a brief summary of the institutional findings from these 10 institutions.

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