Academic achievement, attainment, and engagement of African American males is a topic that has been investigated frequently in recent years. From the K-12 sector to higher education, researchers and practitioners have attempted to find answers and strategies to enhance Black male academic success. Many of the strategies advanced have focused primarily on providing additional supports inside as well as outside of the classroom, such as the development of spaces of community for Black male students through resource centers, initiatives, and clubs. Coupled with these strategies is the push for adding more Black male faculty to college campuses. While these suggestions are helpful, they are incomplete.
Although Black male student engagement is a major issue for all higher education institutions, there are some unique factors across institutional type that can impact Black male students on campus. Larger, four-year institutions, especially private colleges and universities, typically have the resources and autonomy to experiment with various strategies over long periods of time. Through my experience working at a community college, as an administrator at Moraine Valley Community College, I can tell you that resources and significant autonomy are absolute luxuries for two-year schools. So how can community college leaders make a meaningful impact on the Black male student morale on their campuses? What strategies can two-year schools employ to help boost recruitment, retention, persistence, and completion of Black male students?
Research shows that the average community college student enters college less prepared academically, financially, and socially than their four-year counterparts. Related research also shows that even within these struggles, Black male students do worse than others. Consequently, Black male community college students normally need considerable assistance from campus personnel in the form of tutoring, advising, and counseling, as well as general encouragement, endearment, and community. No department in the community college context is more prepared to provide these necessary supports than the student affairs division. As student affairs practitioners know, we have become the “go-to” section of the college when students need a helping hand.
This realization is precisely why I believe research on Black male student engagement is incomplete. Much of the research points to the development of clubs and spaces where Black male students can convene and the increased hiring of Black faculty. While these two approaches are very important, they overlook another point of possibility that can have an impact on the Black male student morale at community college: the hiring of more Black male administrators. If community college students are not well prepared and need to connect with numerous student affairs administrators to get the supports they need, having a number of Black male administrators that these students can access can have a meaningful impact on morale and, essentially, performance. At my particular community college, there is a small cohort of Black male student affairs personnel, including myself. We are intentional about being accessible to our Black male students during office hours and after hours. We often take frequent trips to the college cafeteria and student union throughout the day to engage our students in the spaces where they are comfortable. Typically, we support our Black male students at weekend events in which they may be participating. While this has not been an infallible solution, we have noticed a difference among the Black boys on our campus. Quantifiable evidence from this method may take time, as such evidence is normally longitudinal, but the increased morale of the Black male students at our school is almost immediately noticeable.
It is understood that hiring and filling positions is not as simple as it sounds. Institutional budgets, physical space, unions, and other variables all impact the ability to hire personnel. But we must understand that if community college students need significant hands-on support, particularly from the student affairs division, these students will most likely seek support from those whom which they are most comfortable, or they will likely forego help altogether. The cultural connection that exists between Black male students and administrators, who serve not only as role models, but as instructors, mentors, and allies, is unmistakable. A critical method for increasing performance and engagement of this demographic is to provide at least a few administrators that look like and relate to them. As the number of Black male administrators increase, so will Black male student morale and engagement.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!