In 2015, I conducted a study about obstacles men of color face in pursuing a college degree. I found that college persistence is a complex issue and there is no one way to solve the national problem surrounding low graduation rates. We should also take a hard look at how persistence is defined, but I digress.
There were some consistent themes in the narratives of the young men who served as participants of my study. These include preparedness, or lack thereof; institutional shortcomings; family, and the perception that the student’s presence was needed at home; and money, and all that comes along with limited resources.
Some of my recommendations were as follows:
- The secondary school should work to ensure that students are prepared to handle college-level coursework, in an effort to avoid remedial classes. This entails both a rigorous and supportive curriculum that creates the space for students to develop their voices and participation in the process of their own learning.
- Postsecondary institutions should have resources in place to support bicultural students at every level, but especially male students of color who have some of the highest college attrition rates. These resources should be promoted across the campus constantly and focused efforts should be made to attract students to these resources throughout the academic year.
- Secondary counselors should ensure that parents are fully comfortable with financial obligations to the postsecondary institution their student chooses to attend.
- It is important for secondary and postsecondary institutions to realize that there is a severe need for transition programming for male students of color who exit high school and enter college, especially first generation students. This programming should focus on the various needs of students as they engage this process, specifically locating academic resources, finding success at living away from home, becoming involved in activities, and making friends. It is imperative that bicultural students are also exposed to culturally relevant programming to help them transition to the new environment.
The last of these recommendations is critical. It is speaks to this intentional change that occurs, signifying child to adulthood, boy to manhood, high school to college. Lately, I have thought a great deal about transition and how to be effective in assisting students as they, excuse the cliché, leave the nest. But as I think more about it, the best way to transition a student is not to transition him at all. Instead, the goal should be to create an eight year educational program where the college experience is introduced to students as early as ninth grade. There are schools that do this well. For example, high schools that mandate that students take community college courses as a part of their graduation requirement accomplish several goals. First, the schools are ensuring that students are comfortable taking college level courses. Next, high schools are allowing students to start working on credits for their degree early resulting in less financial debt later on. Finally, students are learning how to navigate a college campus, learning where the resources, thus becoming more likely to seek help once fully enrolled in college.
My team is currently working with postsecondary institutions to brainstorm ways of integrating the college experience into the high school curriculum. We are eager to expose our students to the possibilities of reimagining education by blurring the line that occurs at the midpoint between high school and college.