As high school seniors begin to transition into college, one of the main expectations for students from underrepresented backgrounds is to feel at home in their new environment. Aside from feeling comfortable, there is also a desire to be in the most prestige academic program for their majors, as it correlates to their career path. Most underrepresented student populations tend to focus on attending institutions that offer scholarships and a level of affordability provided by state governments. State governments provide large subsidies to public postsecondary institutions. These funds, amounting to $72.1 billion in 2007, enable public colleges and universities to charge in-state students a reduced price (Palmer, 2006). In addition, many states have financial aid programs (Long & Riley, 2007) that would assist these cohorts to afford higher education. While considering credentials at colleges and universities as a crucial component to their final decision, one factor that tends to be overlooked is the campus culture and how it will affect their overall student experience. In particular, Black and Latino students populations from underrepresented backgrounds realize the distinction of campus culture when they apply for programs within predominantly White institutions (PWIs), which is institutional racism (Arnold, 1993; D’Augelli & Hersberger, 1993) and no critical mass of students of color on campus, therefore compromising the students’ social networks (D’Augelli & Hersberger; McCauley, 1988; Pike & Kuh, 2006) and creating personal and academic challenges for both groups. While high school seniors look for comfort and high academic status, there are also other factors that influence retention rates at institutions, which are essential for the administrators to take initiative upon creating more diversity on their campus. This study will focus on what is not being accomplished for the underrepresented populations, Black and Latino students, to maintain high retention rates at PWIs.
To understand the causes behind retaining students, it is crucial to identify the attitudes and self-esteem of the individuals that reflect their decisions to stay at an institution after their first year. Researchers are evaluating the behavior of African American students who attend predominantly White institutions (PWIs). A model was created by Bean and Eaton (2000) to use constructs of psychological and self-systems to help describe the interaction between African American students’ initial systems and the institutional environment to attempt to study the student retention (Rodgers & Summers, 2008).
The effects of race and culture are considered upon the interactions and psychological processes that African American students (2008) endure while attending PWIs. This model demonstrates a large correlation between students’ attitudes, intentions, and behavior that reflect their individual goals. The purpose is to “help others visualize how individual psychological processes can be understood in the retention process” (Bean and Eaton, 2000, p. 55). Upon attending universities, students bring characteristics to the campus environment, which include: academic skills, efficacy expectations, motivation, and coping skills (Rodgers & Summers, 2008). The interactions between students affect their psychological processes and create individuals’ outcome that can be either negative or positive, thus impacting the decision to stay at the same institution.
One of the causes to creating a positive psychological outcome is self-efficacy. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is defined as “beliefs in one’s capacity to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (1997, p. 3). For African American students, maintaining a high self-efficacy, they have reduced stress and an increase in confidence from social and academic achievement. Thus, they create and maintain positive attitudes about the university and therefore impact the retention rate. For African American students who enter PWIs with a high level of self-efficacy and experience failure for the first time, they begin to question their intelligence and capability to succeed in college, thus resulting in a negative effect on academic self-efficacy and expectations for academic outcomes (van Laar, 2005).
Another area that influences the retention rate for African American students is the interaction between their initial characteristics and outlook on the institution. This type of interaction distinguishes if the campus is a good fit for the student, based on his or her academic and social necessities to succeed, by being provided a substantial support system on campus. According to Rodgers and Summers, there is a tendency for African American students at PWIs to seek a support system from other African American students and faculty (2008). In an effort for PWIs to benefit from retention, it is suggested by Rodgers and Summers that they meet the needs of this student population in their finances, campus involvement, and academic performances (2008) to prevent the cohort from forming negative thoughts on the campus climate.
Researcher van Laar suggests that the trends of African American students valuing college education more than White students prior to entering college (2005) upon finishing their first year in college noticeably drops. This is due to the possibility of this group recognizing their academic and social abilities from comparing themselves to the majority group on campus, which are White students. If African American students create a negative outlook on themselves as scholars, then their success continues to decline, which leads them to feel ashamed and helpless. To prevent these individuals from encountering self-disapproval, researchers Crocker and Major (1989) suggest that they establish a self-protective coping mechanism by using selective comparisons. This practice of comparing oneself to others within their own racial group can improve their self-esteem both academically and socially because of the similarities that these students have with one another, compared to White students at PWIs.
Another aspect of the psychological process that affects the retention rate is the idea of African American students obtaining biculturalism, which is defined as maintaining an identity with their ethnic group as well as developing an identity as a member of the larger, predominantly White campus culture (Rodgers and Summers, 2008). These underrepresented students at PWIs are best socially and academically integrated into the campus community when they are able to demonstrate bicultural competence (Tinto, 1993).
The qualitative research that has been noted by the researchers, especially Bean and Eaton’s model (2000), goes beyond von Robertson et. al’s (2005) belief that using an Afrocentric approach to understanding social integration, adjustment, and retention of African American students. Bean and Eaton’s model proposes a relationship between involved variables, such as self-efficacy and motivation. The model and abovementioned research must be further investigated to apply traditional research models for minority [underrepresented] students, which would produce two implications in both retention and ethnic identity and bicultural development (Rodgers & Summers, 2008). In addition, the definition of biculturalism has no quantitative correlations between cultures (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997) due to the ambiguity and subjection of how African American individuals would describe the term. Therefore, questions can arise upon research, such as: How do African American students at PWIs conceptualize what it means to be bicultural? Another question would ask how would they conceptualize what it means to identify with their own racial group. If these inquiries were to be answered qualitatively, then it would help clarify the quantitative data regarding ethnic identity, biculturalism, motivation, and the overall retention process (Rodgers & Summers, 2008) for this student population attending PWIs.
Aside from African American students, there is also the need to explore these same indicators for retention of Latino students at Predominantly White Institutions. Segovia, Parker and Bennett (2015) conducted a research study that would help “identify factors that influenced students’ high school and academic performance in college at a selective PWI from a sizeable sample” (p.48). This research interviewed a target number of Latino students in terms of their perception towards personal, social and institutional factors regarding their decision to attend a PWI. It was found in the research that there were several factors that contributed to Latino students’ decision to attend a PWI such as personal desire to succeed, setting expectation for high school completion and personal desire to learn and discover. Segovia, Parker and Bennett (2015) indicated that their research can be useful towards “developing and implementing strategies that foster academic success among Hispanic Students at similar institutions of Higher Education” (p.57). It was recommended by the researchers to further expand on the research since the Hispanic student population in the Southeastern United States continues to grow at a rapid pace.
With the need to explore trends within retention for Blacks and Latino students at PWIs, administrators at PWIs should consider implementing different strategies to help promote diversity within their campus community. Cerezo and McWhirter (2012) conducted a research study that would investigate the “Latino Educational Equity Project, a brief intervention designed to enhance college retention by increasing social awareness and skills for Latino students at three predominately white universities in the Pacific Northwest” (p.867). The hypotheses for this study were: (1) LEEP participants would demonstrate greater social adjustment, critical consciousness and cultural congruity and (2) LEEP participants will demonstrate greater development over these same three notions over time after the intervention was completed. Cerezo and McWhirter (2012) found that the effectiveness of LEEP in terms of “social awareness and skills among Latino college students was somewhat mixed” (p.874). It is suggested by the researchers that future interventions and support and retention programs could be improving by “adding the dimensions of the LEEP intervention as a way of facilitating Latino college student retention and success, and ultimately their contribution to the larger community” (Cerezo and McWhirter 2012, p.877).
Establishing a retention program could also benefit Black/African American students at a PWI. Johnson (2013) conducted a research study to explore the “effectiveness of a retention program for African American students at one predominantly white university by focusing on the experiences of African American students, faculty and staff involved in the retention program” (p.39). Recruitment for this retention program was done by way of interview as part of the pre-screening process and data analyses were conducted with coding, memos, constant comparative analysis and triangulation. Johnson (2013) found that “the retention program had a positive influence on student success.” (p.43). In terms of staff/faculty involvement, it was also found that while students could identify several components of the program that had a positive impact, the majority of students “identified the mentoring program and peer helper program as the most influential” (Jackson 2013, p.44). This further demonstrates the need to further conduct research on retention rates for Black/African American and Latino students at PWIs so that we can show administrators can see that it requires further attention and that it has a need to further promote diversity at PWIs.
To further understand the causes of retention rates for Black and Latino student populations at predominantly White institutions, a pre-survey, mid-term reflection, and post-survey of interview questions that includes a Likert scale would be given to both groups during one academic year. Each examination would request permission for the student to participate and an informed consent document to disclose their responses when evaluating the data and scores. There would be 12 students from each group who would volunteer to participate, making this qualitative research. There would be an even ratio of males to females in both Black and Latino student populations to determine if there is an additional difference between sexes in the questionnaire. Although this process involves a small cohort of students, the amount of questions that would be asked of each individual would provide the researchers with details of the overall college experience.
Prior to the academic year commencing at an institution, individual meetings would take place for the questionnaire, which would be distributed to each selected student to answer without any external factors influencing his or her responses. The pre-survey would provide questions such as “How confident are you that you will relate to other students at a predominantly White institution?” These inquiries can be followed up in the mid-term reflection in the middle of the academic year. At this point, the researcher can organize an in-person interview for the individual to elaborate on his or her answers from the first study. The data that the surveyor collects from the second study can point out the possible causes of retention for this cohort if there are members that express negative responses about his or her experience at the college or university.
There are a couple of limitations to consider upon conducting the research for this specific topic. First, while the scope of the research focuses on the ethnic background of the indicated student populations, the gender of the participants is not being considered as a factor aside from the students’ racial identity for the trends within retention. Along with gender, there is also no consideration for Black/Latino students who come overseas via a F-1 student visa to attend a U.S. college or university.
Whether this research provides positive or negative results, the hope is that administrators will utilize this data to better their diversity initiatives on campus. Every year, more and more students are enrolling into college no matter if it’s a PWI, HBCU (Historically Black College University) or any other institution. The main draw for any student to a college/university would be the prestige or reputation of an academic program. If PWIs wish to increase retention of Black/Latinx students, more programs and/or initiatives need to be set in place so that their success matters as well. With the research provided, this will help administrators at PWIs with a resource that will aid in reframing their approach to support services for Black/Latinx students inside and outside the classroom.
Regardless of the results from the above study, there are areas in which researchers should consider conducting further research within this topic. Within Black and Latino families, the upbringings of males and females can differ and affect how each gender views the value of education. Recent research has indicated that females within Black/Latino families are more likely to attend college than their male counterparts. Further research should look at the correlation between the cultural influences of males and females in Black/Latino household and the desire to go to college to better research retention rates for these two student populations at PWIs.
Another area that should be considered for further research is the number of Black/Latino students who are enrolling into U.S. colleges/universities with a F-1 student visa. The research only focuses on those who were born in the U.S. and does not consider those who also identify as international students. Also, because these students are coming into a different country, their transition to college would be different versus those born in the United States. Further research on the correlation between international students identifying as Black/Latino and their transition into college would help provide a larger scope of retention from a global perspective.
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