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How Engaged are Minority Males in Community College?

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It may seem like a paradox: Many Latino and black male students enter community college with enthusiasm and high aspirations. However, minority males are less likely to complete their degrees than their white male counterparts.

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin came to that conclusion in its report “Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges.”

The report is based on the responses from thousands of community college students to the group’s survey on engagement. The center also held more than 30 student focus groups with black, Latino and white male students. Six focus groups were held with faculty and staff.

The initial positive attitudes and greater engagement of minority males often did not match outcomes. Latino and black males were more likely to take advantage of writing and math labs, tutoring and computer lab services.

In addition, while 87 percent of Latino and black males surveyed said they expected to earn associate’s degrees, 80 percent of white males said they expected to do so.

However, the report cites 2011 federal data showing that only five percent of black and Latino males are earning certificates or degrees in three years, compared with 32 percent of white males.

“How is it we can start out with a group of students who are so jazzed up and lose them so quickly?” the center’s director, Kay McClenney, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One factor may be that minority male students tend to enter college less prepared for the coursework, and may need more support in developmental classes. The Chronicle reported that colleges must exercise care, however, when offering special support services to minority students so they don’t feel singled out.

The survey notes that many young males struggle with the perception that they are inferior because of their background, making them feel a “stereotype threat.” Therefore, the pressure to not meet the stereotype can cause the students to struggle. The study also mentioned that male students perceived that higher expectations were set for female students, who were viewed as more focused.

“When educators think of men of color, they often associate these students with ‘bad news,’ perhaps even a ‘lost cause,’” University of Texas at San Antonio professor Laura Rendon said in the report. “In these cases, deficits are emphasized, as opposed to a focus on assets — such as family, language, resilience, and faith — that could be harnessed to help men of color succeed.”

There are some positive takeaways. In surveys, students reported that their personal connections with faculty and other students mattered and gave them a sense of belonging. High expectations also drove them to succeed, as did instructors who were interested in students and what they teach.

Students also spoke about the importance of diversity. One Hispanic male student shared how much it meant to him to have a teacher who was Hispanic and “like me.”

“There was a time where he had pulled me aside and said, ‘You remind me a lot of me,’” the student recalled. “He was like, ‘you can do this.’”

One program mentioned in the report that is seeing positive outcomes is Latinos Unidos Con Energia Respeto y Orgullo (LUCERO) at Lansing Community College in Michigan. What began as a social organization now provides students with academic workshops and tutoring, in addition to Hispanic cultural activities and community service.

The report is worth a read. I like that it excerpts quotes from the students themselves.