President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative has elevated discourse across the country about the academic success of young boys and men (YBMOC) of color. MBK has provided a national forum for stakeholders who are concerned about educational and life opportunities for YBMOC to collectively engage a range of topics and issues, including disparate disciplinary rates in K-12 schools, achievement gaps in standardized testing, the underrepresentation of boys of color in Advanced Placement courses, and postsecondary access and completion for YBMOC.
Perhaps it is easy for those of us who work in higher education to focus narrowly on how MBK or similar initiatives apply to “traditional” college students—that is, those who are between the ages of 18 and 24 who enroll in four-year institutions immediately upon graduating from high school. However, this line of thinking excludes a significant segment of students of color enrolled in postsecondary education.
A critical fact to consider when developing postsecondary success initiatives is that a critical mass of students of color who participate in postsecondary education do so at a community college. This is overwhelmingly the case for men of color. Thus, while YBMOC’s access to and success in four-year institutions is an important issue that warrants our ongoing attention and concern, consideration of their experiences and outcomes at community colleges is just as essential. Therefore, before any initiative aimed at boosting the degree attainment of college men of color can be advanced, it’s important to better understand community college enrollment trends:
· Approximately 40 percent of all students enrolled in postsecondary education attend two-year institutions.
· Of the students enrolled at public and private nonprofit two-year institutions, approximately 48 percent of them are students of color (compared to only approximately 34 percent at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions).
· 50 percent of Hispanic students and 31 percent of African American students begin their postsecondary education careers at community colleges.
· Men are underrepresented in higher education in general, and of the men who are enrolled in postsecondary institutions, men of color are underrepresented among students obtaining certificates or degrees and transferring to four-year institutions.
The trends noted above clearly suggest that any real progress on increasing postsecondary degree attainment for men of color will be difficult to come by in the absence of a deliberate focus on the community college context. Consequently, it is imperative that educators who work at these institutions have both the dispositions and capacities that are necessary to serve these students responsibly. For YBMOC, particularly those whose K-12 educational experiences may have been less than ideal, having educators who believe in them and are fully committed to their success is essential to their persistence in postsecondary education.
One initiative that was developed to direct attention and resources to the experiences of YBMOC at community colleges is San Diego State University’s (SDSU) Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3). Created in 2011 with modest funding from the SDSU President’s office, M2C3 brings together university researchers and community college educators from across the country (e.g., faculty, counselors, student services professionals, administrators) who are well-positioned to improve outcomes for men of color who are enrolled at these institutions.
To date, M2C3, which is co-directed by Frank Harris III and J. Luke Wood—both of whom are associate professors in SDSU’s Postsecondary Education and Community College Leadership programs— has partnered with 40 community colleges in eight states. M2C3 has developed tools to support institution-level assessment (such as the Community College Student Success Inventory and professional development webinars) and has also informed state and national policy discussions about the status of YBMOC and the impact of MBK.
Through their collaborative research efforts with participating community colleges, Harris and Wood have discovered key differences in the experiences of men of color at these institutions. Broadly speaking, their findings suggest that the disparate experiences for men of color at community colleges result from unique challenges associated with a general lack of resources and structural support systems at community colleges; a scarcity of educators with the knowledge and expertise necessary to support men of color in culturally appropriate ways; and the need for community college personnel at all levels of institutional operations who can create buy-in across functional areas for these vital initiatives.
With these unique challenges in mind and in the spirit of supporting YBMOC enrolled at community colleges, we offer the following considerations for educators across the country who are responsible for ensuring the success of these young men in their respective roles as higher education practitioners and researchers:
· Student success is not exclusively a student issue. Rather, it is an institutional responsibility—a responsibility shared among faculty and staff at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. Viewing the success of all students as a central component of one’s professional duties, regardless of one’s department or specific job function, is an essential disposition for staff and faculty to possess when advancing initiatives aimed at boosting retention and completion rates.
· Institutional efforts to facilitate student success for men of color must be intentional, strategic, guided by inquiry, and inclusive of a range of campus stakeholders (including students). Rigorous assessment of these efforts must also occur on an ongoing basis. Shaun Harper and John Kuykendall’s (2012) article, Institutional Efforts to Improve Black Male Student Achievement: A Standards-Based Approach provides a useful framework for institutions that are at the early stages of planning and strategizing.
· Ensure that efforts to improve access and success for men of color on your campuses take into consideration the important roles that community colleges play. Toward this end, innovative approaches to partnering with local community colleges may be both necessary and worthwhile.
· In conducting research studies on men of color at four-year institutions, be sure to disaggregate the experiences of research participants who began their college careers at a community college from those who enrolled at a four-year institution immediately upon graduating from high school.
· Do not prioritize or focus exclusively on “student deficits” (underpreparation for example) in efforts to improve student success for men of color. Focus on what institutions and educators must do to facilitate success for and enhance the strengths of these students despite any actual or perceived deficits they may have.
· Be sure to account for issues pertaining to gender and masculinity when developing support services and interventions for men of color. These issues should also be at the core of professional development activities for faculty and staff who are well-positioned to facilitate student success for men of color.
For more information about the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3):
Website - http://interwork.sdsu.edu/sp/m2c3/
Twitter - @MinorityMaleCCC