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Barriers of Academic Success and Retention for African American Males

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Published: 2nd Mar 2022

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Ignoring The Bull In The China Shop: A Qualitative Study Exploring The Barriers of Academic Success And Retention For First Generation African American Males Attending HBCUs


This qualitative study examines the experiences of 3 male students of color attending HBCUs in southern states of the United States. Research has shown that Black men are attending college at significantly disproportionate rate than white males, as well as their Black female counterparts. According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES; 2010), the gender gap for enrollment between male and female Black students has increased significantly over the last 30 years. Although the enrollment rate has increased over the last 30 years, universities have failed to retain FGMOC after their freshman year of college. This study aims to reveal non-cognitive factors that affect the enrollment status for First Generation African American Men. Furthermore, we will discuss the precollege experiences of black males before they enter college. In addition, researching models to specify the complexities of experiences for males at HBCU’s, while examining how Tinto’s Research Model compares to newer research models that focus on non-cogitative behaviors and retention rates for men of color attending HBCUs. This phenomenological study is intended to offer some possible solutions for poor graduation rates amongst men of color in higher education.  Moreover, this research paper will also take a look at the correlation between the lack funding for student engagement, counseling services and academic enhancement services as it results to retaining first generation freshman male students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Chapter 1: Introduction

When examining retention rates for African American males there are multiple factors that intervene in their progression in college.  When looking at the data and research in the world of academia, male students of color aren’t stacking up to their counterparts as it pertains to continuing education after high school graduation. High school students across the nation are now faced with the most important decision of their young lives. The education system for years has forced 17-year-old students to make a life changing decision on whether college is their next destination or should he join the workforce. As male students of color are pushed to enter the higher education arena, there are non-cognitive variables that may also contribute to added pressures after graduation high school.  According to the Center for the Study of College Student Retention (2008), nearly 50% of students entering higher education will not earn a degree. This is a significant problem for both students and higher education institutions. Dropping out of college is not a new problem, and institutions continue to try different strategies to improve student retention. But according to a recent report by the American College Testing Program (2010), the average retention rates across the U.S. have not improved appreciably over the past decade. Men of color are on average dropping out of higher education institutions.

This research paper will explore non-cognitive issues that hinder FGAAM from remaining in college after their first year. Non-cognitive research looks at a student’s family background characteristics, affects, attitudes, interests, social sensitivity, and interpersonal competence, coping skills, creativity, and personal values (Messick et al., 1979).

Statement of the Problem

The purpose of this quantitative research is to explore non-cognitive factors that influence or affect retention rates for First Generation Male Students of Color attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The academic success and retention of students, particularly during their first year, are major concerns for colleges and universities (Noble and Sawyer, 1987; Ting, 2001; Sander, Pike and Saupe, 2002). Researchers have determined several factors that serve as barriers that impedes on the success of FGMOC in college. Poor retention and persistence rates and active disengagement on campus have been linked with systemic discrimination in the education pipeline (Palmer et al., 2009; West, 2001); lack of or minimal family involvement (Lewis & Middleton, 2003; Palmer, Davis, & Maramba, in press); perceived cultural attitudes of “acting White” (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Lundy, 2005); conservative institutional climates at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs; Harper 7 Gasman, 2008); inadequate financial assistance (Thomas, Faffow, & Martinez, 1998); perceived incongruence of academic success and masculinity (Davis, 2003);  and academic preparation (Davis & Palmer, 2010; Klopfenstein, 2004; Palmer & Davis in press; Perna, Redd, & Swsail, 2003; Riegle-Crumb, 2006, Zamani, 2000).

Non-cognitive factors affecting retention rates for Africa American male students is often times the lack of academic under preparedness once enrolled at HBCUs. Throughout history it is important to note that students haven’t always been taught how to critically think about their life, nor address critical at-risk factors that will occur in their personal life. Stephen Norris said back in 1985 that most kids are not equipped to “recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and appraise inferences.” In 1992, psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmoses told us humans are evolved simply to avoid dangers and survive (Crockett, 2016).

The lack of knowledge or the student’s unwillingness to ask for help during a crisis is a key factor that might derail their dreams of finishing college and obtaining a career after finishing. Students who lack an educational foundation struggle to learn the basics and lose out on the importance of creating your personal support system. First Generation Males of Color are faced with a multitude of issues before they arrive on campus.  Most universities make accommodations to get the students to campus, but often times leave them to navigate the campus on their own. When you look at the fact that a student is first generation his family may not completely know how to navigate the college system themselves.

Purpose of Study

Imagine boys of color playing together in their back yard on a sunny summer day. These boys each showing equal amounts of enthusiasm, energy, and feeling as they discuss big aspirations for life; many dream of becoming lawyers, scientists, or even future presidents of the United States. In it is this moment, their potential to be successful is equal across the board and limitless in their future. Male students of color such as African American, Latino males are than likely to attend under resourced schools with poor academic outcomes than their white counterparts.

Many studies conducted by researchers have explored how such structural barriers hinder academic success among Native American, African-American, and Latino male students, as compared to white students. This data reflects gaps in academic performance and degree attainment for male’s students of color. First-generation college students are a marginalized group that goes relatively unnoticed in the world of higher education (Hand & Payne, 2008). Hand and Payne (2008), suggest that this may happen because some may not look different like as other marginalized groups, such as Hispanics or African-Americans. The purpose of this study is to determine how well HBCUs handle non-cognitive issues facing FGAAM once they arrive at the university. In addition, review the experiences that either creates positive or negative an atmosphere for males students of color to remain at the their university. As the researcher, I will attempt to identify underlining factors that impact persistence and perception of academic success for male students of color in their first year of study at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Research Questions

  1. Non-Cognitive variables that contribute to first generation male students of color persistence to baccalaureate degree completion.
  2. Motivating factors influencing male students of color to persist towards completion of the baccalaureate degree.
  3. How did personal experiences campus impact or influence their decision to stay or withdraw from pursuit of earning their degree?
  4. What roles do peers; parents and collegiate educators play in African American male students’ ability to academically succeed at HBCUs?

Significance of The Problem

This research project is significant for reasons that can and will add to the body of knowledge dedicated to academic success for students of color; it has the possibility to help HBCUs retention efforts for male’s students of color. Little research has been conducted on the student perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of male students of color as it relates to their persistence in the quest of a postsecondary education. The information from the focus groups will assist university administrators with developing programming opportunities that are intentional and caters to the needs of FGAAM.

Moreover, this research information will assist in the retention of all students, including African-American males. Also, the findings can better inform the universities faculty, staffs and administrators who work with male students of color on a daily basis.


Researchers commonly bound studies within the context of certain limitations and delimitations (Creswell, 2003). It remains unclear if cognitive variables are better predictors of student’s success within the first in the second semester than in the first. The selected sample only represents students from one 4-year college in southern United States during a single time period. Will students provide accurate information when conducting focus groups?

The interview process may not be an efficient way to collect reliable information when the questions are centered on matters that participants perceive as complex. Lastly, limitations of this study my not tell the whole story as a result of the number of students in the focus groups.

Assumption of The Study

Although the research show that HBCUs are providing male students of color with support that will lead to their success, data shows that men of African American males are not finishing the process. While the foundational theories of retention include such non-cognitive factors as Tinto’s (1993) precollege characteristics and goals and commitments, or Astin’s (1993) cognitive-psychological or cognitive-behavioral dimensions, there is a gap in the theory about specific measures being taken by campuses in using this information to affect positive change related to retention rates, or in measuring the impact of such measures. There is an assumption that HBCUs don’t create learning environments for males students of color once they arrive on campus.


Student retention and persistence have been an issue facing higher education for decades, as access to college has expanded research on the progression of non-white students has provided consist matriculation data. However, men of color have consistently showed signs of non-matriculation as it pertains to graduation rates in higher education.

As Johnson (2000) wrote, every year prospective college students receive volumes of materials from a variety of institutions, and every year college administrators fund research and research-based interventions in order to cut down on the rate of student departure. Yet nearly one out of every four-college freshmen leaves the institution he or she carefully chose to attend. The departure of these students from college, in spite of their own preparation and the efforts of the institutions to retain them, constitutes a puzzle. (p. 157)

The purpose of this review is to add to the existing scholarship exploring methodologies that may serve to increase retention and degree attainment among First Generation Men of color attention Historically Black Colleges and Universities in higher education. The objective of this chapter review is to provide a comprehensive variation of existing literature and previous research on first-generation males of color in higher education. This chapter is organized to provide both a theoretical and practical foundation for the current study of male students of color. This chapter is divided into sections that will provide a clear review of the existing issues for male students of color. The first section provides a historical context followed by K-12 progressions for African American males in the education field. Also, details about the demographic trends and non-cognitive variables that contribute to lack of first-generation male students of color persistence to baccalaureate degree completion. Following this section, this paper will discuss precollege experiences of male’s students of color before they enter college.

The third section provides an overview of the theoretical models as they exam the impact in which universities have on integration, retention and departure for male students of color to persistence. As well as exam motivating factors influencing male students of color to persist towards completion of the baccalaureate degree. Following these topics of discussion, the fourth section will review research models to specify the complexities of experiences for males at HBCU’s, while examining how Tinto’s & Sedlacek Research Model’s compares to newer research models that focus on non-cogitative behaviors and retention rates for men of color attending HBCUs. Also, review the complexities of academic and social experiences First Generation Africa American males experience once they are on campus. The final section of this chapter will conclude with an analysis of the correlation between the lack funding for student engagement, counseling services and academic enhancement services as it results to retaining first generation freshman male students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Historical Context

The emancipation of slaves was a process of crime and war against a race of people that generationally destroyed any new advancement for African Americans. Throughout those vile and inhuman acts within American history, slaves were held back from learning to read and write, in most jurisdictions it was a criminal offense to teach a slave to read. Black people were not brought to this country to be given an education, citizenship, or democracy. They were brought to this country to serve, to labor, and to obey…When servants are educated at all they are educated to serve, but never to share in power, thus planting the seeds of our present day educational crisis. (Clarke, 1973, p. 17)

However, 30 years after the emancipation Historically Black Colleges cultivated swiftly and flourished under racial tensions in the South. This movement was notably aided by northern Christian churches, which sent hundreds of missionary’s to the schools in the south to teach young blacks. As the progress heightens within the south to educate African Americans extreme tensions arose as a result of the mere thought of blacks attending college. This movement triggered anger within the White South.

Consequently, one of the many casualties was the president of Talladega who shot and killed in 1870.  Booker T. Washington who is one of the most notable African American figures of education, argued for racial conciliation as the violence spun out of control in the White South. Mr. Washington encouraged black families to avoid any direct competition for higher education, as a way to please the White South. Booker T. Washington said that Blacks should concentrate on trades and manual labor. Throughout the south Booker T. Washington’s position on education access for blacks eased much of the White southern opposition. This allowed the establishment of Black colleges in most southern states and southern whites agreed to provide funding for the vocational/trade education of African Americans. However, if we compare the educational struggles over the last 100 years, research shows that it’s hard to see a clear difference in the progression of African Americans particularly African American men.

K-12 Progression

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 is arguably one the most damaging education policy initiative passed by legislation The United States in over the last four decades. The provision of the NCLB Act (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 2002) mandated that educators in schools improve the academic performance of their students. The low performance of African American male students is an apparent reason for educators to be concerned with seeking instructional methods and strategies to reach groups of students who are performing below average. NCLB Act assumes the practice of pushing struggling black males out of school to boost test scores, which has become quite common practice in the K-12 arena. Many black males attending low performing school were perfect targets for the common practice of social advancement.

Over the years, there has been ample of amount of research devoted to finding ways to increase the academic success for African American males in K-12 and higher education. One key factor noted by multiple researchers is consistent stagnation between Black male college enrollment and lack of educational attainment in their disproportionate departure from high school. The educational outlook for African American males has systemically been more destructive than any other ethnic group. Wray (2001) found that approximately one-fourth of all prime age African American males who have not graduated from high school were incarcerated or under the control of the correction system. At midyear, June 30, 2009, statistics showed that an estimated 841,000 Black males under the age of 18 were incarcerated in state, federal prison or local jails. For every 100,000 U. S. residents, Black males were incarcerated at a rate of 4,749 inmates, 6 times higher than White non-Hispanic males (West, 2010).

Demographic Variables of Progression

Historically, African Americans have placed a great deal of emphasis on educational attainment. Black leaders, activists and scholars have long advocated that the road to upward mobility, group competitiveness and liberation was paved with education (Smith, 1989). One of the most noted Negro men of our time W. E. B. Du Bois predicted in 1903 that the issue of the 20th century would be education and the color line. Du Bois compared the concept of the color line principally to the role of race and racism in American history and society. When looking at the journey of African Americans particularly African American males, the quest to attain their education has always had its share of hard ache and pain.

According to the Pew Research Center, fall 2008 had the most significant growth in first-time postsecondary enrollment in four decades. Students of color led the enrollment boom, with a 15 percent increase for Hispanics, followed by increases of 8 percent for African Americans, 6 percent for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and 2 percent for Native Americans (Fry 2010). These statistics are promising, but with minority males lagging behind their female peers in college completion rates, they are not enough to close the gaps (College Board 2010).

The U.S. Census projects that racial and ethnic minorities will represent more than half of all children in the United States by 2023 and that the U.S. population will be 54 percent minority by 2050 (College Board 2010). Youth from these communities need full preparation for access to higher education. This data shows that America will possibly have a population of untapped potential as it pertains to minority males of color if these trends continue American will have a majority lead population of uneducated men. Each of the four ethnic groups discussed all face problematic community issues that hinder their chances of gaining an education. Research has often provided the trends that created the atmosphere to springboard discussions about the at risk communities in which these young live.  As the population shifted and researchers from underrepresented communities entered the research field there was limited information on Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American men.

Among the many challenges facing these different communities, a few stand out as affecting these young men. For example, the overrepresentation of minority men among those held back in or suspended from school is a significant component in young men’s lack of academic success (Fenning and Rose 2007). These two factors affect school readiness and contribute to the often-cited “pipeline to prison” for African American boys in particular (Rashid 2009).  Another important factor is the “overemphasis on special education as a solution for boys acting out” (College Board 2010). Instead of addressing behavioral issues, schools are inclined to place a disproportionate number of male students of color in special education programs (Davis and Polite 1994). These trends have created a negative learning curve for male students of color, which has conditioned them to neglect their quest for education. This trend has also created negative stereotypes that follow these young men as they transition throughout middle school, high school and college.

Precollege Experiences of First Generation African American Males

The African American experience became a hub of chaotic stressors during the year 1641, when a Virginia court ruled in favor of dissimilarity between White and Black indentured servants. This ruling began the quest to successfully disenfranchisement African Americans people, which in returned destroyed the foundation of the African American Family. When looking at the mental stressors that African American Families endured during this time multiple theories correlate to the issues facing the population of black males. In-college experiences have been found to be influential in explaining college student persistence than pre-college factors such as high school grades and test scores (Donovan, 1984). The persistence literature essentially argues that academic success in college rests on the ability of a student to adjust both socially and academically to the institution (Jones, 2001; Moore, 2001; Tinto, 1993). Historically African American Males have encountered lived experienced that have shaped their outlook on life and education. Numerous statistics explain the persistence of underachievement for black males within the K-12 process.  For example, students are likely to persist in their efforts at learning when they feel they are in control. Students are likely to feel in control when the factors attributed to their outcomes are seen as internal, stable and controllable (Schunk & Zimmerman, 2006).

A research study exploring African American males’ attitudes toward college cited African American males displayed a lack of academic preparation, poor grades, low Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, lack of adequate high school guidance from school counselors, teachers, high-school faculty and administration, peer pressure, parental and societal expectations as barriers to their success (The University System of Georgia, 2002). History and research shows that this is nothing new, African American males are born into systems that aren’t created to help them persist or gain a grasp on their true talents. African American males’ racial identity has been under attack and formed by labels placed on them as early third grade through history.

Non-cognitive Issues

Today, more than 20 percent of the undergraduate student population at four-year institutions in the U.S. are first-generation students (Nunez and Cuccaro-Alamin 1998). First-generation students are generally defined as those whose parents have no college or university experience (Billson and Terry 1982; Nunez and Cuccaro-Alamin 1998; York-Anderson and Bowman 1991). Male students of color are experiencing intense pressure to succeed due to the overall push to increase educational attainment. Research shows that for decades these same students not receiving the academic and social supports they need to thrive in high school to prepare for college enrollment. The literature on African American students in higher education prior to 2000 focused primarily on enrollment disparities of collegiate ethnic groups as well as research on the gender gap in enrollment for African American men and women (Allen, 1991 1992; Cuyjet, 1997, 2006: Pope, 2006; Fleming, 1984, Feagin, Vera, & Imani, 1996; Fries-Britt & Griffin, 2007; Guiffrida, 2003). In the last decade, scholars have begun to shift their focus to the experiences of African American male students. Since 2000, African American college students has concentrated on certain constructs in higher education that impact African American enrollment, persistence, academic achievement and overall collegiate experience.

Also, the research examines non-cognitive factors that males of color face daily and many theories that support why these men struggle throughout their education life span. First-generation students of ethnic minorities may face more challenges. Richardson and Skinner (1990) found that these students lack community support, role models, sufficient academic preparation, and often experience discrimination.

For decades important research has examined why African American males are not pursuing education. Tinto’s theory focuses on the premise that students possess various social, families, and academic attributes, including beliefs and intentions related to college attendance and performance (Tinto, 1975). Tracy and Sedlacek (1985) and Sedlacek (2004) defined these non-cognitive variables as: positive self-concept, realistic self-appraisal, ability to deal with the system and racism, persistence and long-term goals, reliable support, community involvement, leadership experiences and knowledge acquisition of career. Research shows the rise of single African American women with children, the increase in concentrated urban poverty and escalating joblessness among young black males are critical links to non-cognitive behaviors that affect persistent for young men of color. Over the last decade research has shown a parallel decline in services available to families of color that lack education. Research analysis also showed that such neighborhoods, schools and households lack the resources necessary to sustain a healthy secure family life. Universities must continue to gather more information about first-generation students to provide appropriate services throughout their college career. However, more studies are needed how the students’ background problems is related to their academic and social performance as it relates to retention in college. Also, little has been written on first-generation men of color from an ethnic minority background and non-cognitive approach.

HBCU Foundation

The complexities of experiences for African American males attending HBCUs are similar from campus to campus. Historically Black Colleges were created to create the greatest thinking African American, but throughout history, these schools have struggled to maintain their common goal of educating men of color.  When looking at the HBCUs and their role in retaining Black males, statics show that these universities aren’t reaching their goals. African American male students, as compared to other demographic groups, have a higher attrition rate in higher education (Lang, 1992). Moreover, there are major issues that affect the retention process for African American males attending HBCUs; the critical issues are lack continuous support for first-generation African American males, induction experience on these students arrive on campus, and funding for students.

Issues of First-Generation College Students

First-generation college students are a marginalized group that goes relatively unnoticed in the world of higher education (Hand & Payne, 2008). The initial experience for first-generation black males on a college campus is usually their first encounter with the higher education system. As a higher institute of education HBCUs have to work extremely hard to make sure they are providing the approach services once the student arrives on campus. First-generation students by definition are students that come from a family where neither parent has obtained a four-year college degree before the student’s entry into higher education Hand and Payne (2008).  It’s a clear necessity that Historically Black Colleges and Universities rollout the red carpet and reprogram damage society has created for these young men.


Induction into the university environment may be one the most important initiatives to assist in retention of Black male students (Harper & Quaye, 2007). Tinto’s (1993) theory of student departure states that students must be immersed in their new environment to make a successful transition.  The first step universities can take once AA males enter their university it to show them that the commitment from all aspects of campus will be provided. To show schools commitment the next step is providing validation during the recruitment stage, which then creates a supportive environment for these young men. In return, this support system will make AA males feel wanted, valued appreciated. Less than 25 percent of students withdraw due to academic performance, whereas more than 75 percent dropout because of the difficulties related to lack of fit between the skills and interests of the student and the organization of the educational institution (Tinto, 1975). Studies show that students who perceived their social interactions to be positive during their semester would likely enroll for the second semester.

Financial Concerns

Finally, the most critical factors that have created challenges for AA male students are the rising cost of college. Throughout this paper the common factor that creates issues for AA males are centered around low-income families, which so many of AA males come from low-income families. Most postsecondary institutions have an increase in their tuition on an annual basis, including those that attempt to maintain lower tuition and fees to serve a greater 37 number of low-income students (Merisotis & McCarthy, 2005). College affordability is a concern for all students, especially those that are classified as low-income.


  • Black: African Americans and Blacks are used interchangeably to refer to the descendants of African slaves in the United States (Wood, Hilton & Hicks, 2014).
  • HBCUs: “Black academic institutions established before to 1964, whose principal mission was, and still is, the education of Black Americans” (Roebuck & Murty 1993, p. 3).
  • Motivational Factors: Critical items that may enhance retention and success rates of students (Wood, Hilton, & Hicks, 2014).
  • Retention: Remaining enrolled within an institution of higher education until completion of a degree
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Historically Black Colleges and Universities are institutions of higher education that were established before 1964 with the intention of serving the black community in the United States, including public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, medical schools and community colleges.
  • FGAAM– First Generation African American Males
  • First Generation– A first-generation college student is defined as a student whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree.
  • Student Services-Student affairs, student support, or student services is the department or division of services and support for student success at institutions of higher education to enhance student growth and development in the United States and abroad.
  • Student Engagement- refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.


The overall purpose of this study was to analyze the experiences of three AA men who are currently enrolled in HBCUs. Moreover, this research looks to discover the role non-cognitive development play in the campus acclamation, personal identity and retention for FGAAM attending HBCU’s. This qualitative study is to add, examine and explore strategies that may serve to increase retention rates, increase student success for FGAAM and provide a guideline that helps with degree attainment among African American men in higher education.

As the researcher, I am interested in understanding the non-cognitive issues FGAAM face in their personal life and the institutional barriers as these men face, while learning from the student about the strategies they use to reduce or eliminate the barriers. The conceptual framework selected for this study is into framework for student integration and model of student retention.

(Student Integration Model)

(Student retention Model)

For this study, the researcher utilized a qualitative methodology with a case study design drawing from a post-positivist research paradigm.

Research Design

I employed a qualitative, Phenomenological study that will report a narrative study of experiences of a single individual or several individuals. Phenomenologist focuses on describing what all participants have in common as they experience a phenomenon (e.g., grief is universally experienced). The basic purpose of phenomenon is to reduce individual experiences with a phenomenon to a description of the universal essence (a “grasp of the very nature of the thing,” van Manen, 1990, p. 177). Therefore the study explored the lived experiences of first-generation African American male students attending Historically Black College and Universities. These lived and shared experiential data offers a preliminary step in what could result in a more in-depth phenomenological study.

With a shortage of research and lack of knowledge of how non-cognitive issues affect the experience for first-generation African American males at HBCUs. This research study amplified the voices of African American males students and privileged their point of view over quantitative phenomenological methods that only examined and magnified their deficits and failures in higher education in order to better understand the perceptions of these students.

This study provided an opportunity for first-generation African American males students to voice on their personal perceptions, feelings and opinions about how they were able to promote their college persistence beginning overcoming high school. Using the phenomenological approach provided an understanding of each male students experience and what ultimately led to his success and failures on a HBCU campus.

Phenomenological design simply refers to the study of how people describe things and experiences through their own senses (Hursserl, 1913 as cited in Patton, 2001). Phenomenological studies do not make assumptions but rather approach the subject as ‘freshly’ and neutral as possible (Moustakas, 1994). Moustakas (1994) also says that in such an investigation, “the researcher becomes an expert on the topic, knows the nature of prior research, has developed new knowledge on the topic, and has become proficient enough in recognizing the kind of future research that would deepen and extend knowledge on the topic” (p. 162).

Design Research Questions 

The four questions that guided the study were:

  1. Non-Cognitive variables that contribute to first generation male students of color persistence to baccalaureate degree completion.
  2. Motivating factors influencing male students of color to persist towards completion of the baccalaureate degree.
  3. How did personal experiences campus impact or influence their decision to stay or withdraw from pursuit of earning their degree?
  4. What roles do peers; parents and collegiate educators play in African American male students’ ability to academically succeed at HBCUs?


These interviews will consist of face-to-face, in-depth, 60–120 minute interviews with each participant and a 30–60 minute in-person follow-up interview during a six-week timeframe. The purpose of follow-up interview is to clearly understand the experiences of first-generation men of color; who are enrolled in a Historically Black College and Universities. In addition, the follow-up portion of the interviews, participants will be asked to reconstruct the details of their K-12 educational experiences in which it occurred precollege. By having the participants revisit their K-12 experiences provides a more in-depth overview of their education journey. Conducting the interviews was therefore necessary for the study to understand and appreciate the unique journey of each individual experiencing the phenomenon (Crotty, 1998).

Validity and Reliability

“Reliability and validity are tools of an essentially positivist epistemology” (Watling, as cited in Winter, 200, p. 7). Joppe (2000) defines reliability as: The extent to which results are consistent over time and an accurate representation of the total population under study is referred to as reliability and if the results of a study can be reproduced under a similar methodology, then the research instrument is considered to be reliable (p. 1). The validity and reliability of the study is a direct reflection of the live experiences provided to the researcher directly from face to face interviews. In order to increase the validity and reliability of the findings, I used two approaches for analyzing the data. The first was member checks (Huberman & Miles, 1994), which were conducted by sharing my interpretations of the interviews with participants. After the interviews, each participant was sent a copy of the transcript and I requested feedback regarding their perception of whether I appropriately translated their comments.

My Role as the intended Researcher

As in every study, issues of researcher bias must be addressed (Jordan, 2008). While conducting this study I was both an insider and an outsider as it relates to positionality. I am part of the this group being studied and I am an African American man who had to overcome many of the same obstacles as study participants to earn a baccalaureate degree at a HBCU. Bonner and Tolhurst (2002) who identified three key advantages to being an “insider-researcher” including: (1) having a greater understanding of the culture of the being studied; (2) not altering the flow of the social interaction unnaturally; and having an established intimacy which promotes which promotes the telling and the judging of truth. (3) further insider researchers generally know the politics of the institution, not only the formal hierarchy but also “how it really works”. Moreover, additional internal validity factors influencing retention rates for first-generation African American males attending HBCUs are a true reflection of the reality and effects of non-cognitive variables. Each participant will be asked the same questions and will receive the same survey, which will help keep the research reliable.

Chapter 2 provided a historical review of the issues facing FGAAM attempting to graduate college. The validly of the problem raised concerning issues that show how independent variable accounted for the change in the dependent variable. The study also will monitor the length of time between conducting the 1st and 2nd interview, which can have detrimental effect if the interviews aren’t conducted in a timely manner. The external validity of this study can be compromised if the selection isn’t non-random or if the participants are convenient sample.

Guba and Lincoln (1981) stated that while all research must have “truth value”, “applicability”, “consistency”, and “neutrality” in order to be considered worthwhile, the nature of knowledge within the rationalistic (or quantitative) paradigm is different from the knowledge in naturalistic (qualitative) paradigm. 

Selection Criteria

For the study, a criterion method of sampling was used. This mode of sampling requires that each of the participants in the study meet prescribed criteria for the study and have experienced the studied phenomenon (Creswell, 1998). The participants for this study, therefore, were required to meet the following criteria: (1) have successfully completed high school; (2) have identified themselves as AA and/or Black, non-Hispanic; and (3) identify has first-generation Africa American males attending HBCUs. Also, to achieve more effective sampling, participants spanned from students attending HBCUs in southern states. To protect each participant’s identity, the research refers to them as R, and a number of one through three.

Sample Population 

Description of Participants 

Therefore, participants were selected based upon the specific qualities they could bring to the study (Esterberg, 2002, p. 93).

Data Collection 

Polit and Hungler (1999:267) define data as “information obtained during the course of an investigation or study”. In this study, open-ended questions were used to obtain data relevant to the study’s objectives and research questions. The purpose of the study was to identify non-cognitive issues that hindered retention rates for first-generation African American males attending HBCUs. This method of collecting data is in line with the goal of a phenomenological study. Among the three types of interviews (semi-structured, unstructured, and structured), the use of semi structured interviews proved to be the most appropriate to allow the participants to be candid in their responses, and for “listening carefully to the participant’s response and following their lead” (Esterberg, 2002, p. 87).


“An interview is a meeting of two persons to exchange information and ideas through questions and responses, resulting in communication and joint construction of meaning about a particular topic” (Esterberg, 2002, P. 83). The data collected will reflects the true feelings of male students of color who are enrolled at these universities. The quantitative study design will collect data by conducting personal one-on one interview’s, surveys and focus group interviews with students. As data is collected from focus groups, interviews are selected as a narrative approach, which allows participants to share their common academic and social experiences (Bogdan & Bilked, 2003). The interview locations included the focus institutions, local libraries, and their places of employment, hometown and residence halls. To make sure the students understood the study, I began each interview with a review of the purpose of the study, to help each participant understand the importance of their participation.

Structure of the questionnaire

The questionnaire consisted of the following four sections:

Section A: Personal (biographical) data

Section B: High School/Pre-College

Section C: College

Section D: Personal Experience

Data Interpretation: Research Related to Non-Cognitive Retention Variables

Specific Factors Affecting Retention for Male Students of Color

Factor Background: Parental Support, Parents’ Education, College Preparatory Curriculum and Social Backgrounds.

Organizational: Lack Scholarships & Financial Aid,

Social Academics: Retention-Specific Programs (learning communities, First-Year Experience, Advance Number of Retention Offices).

Environmental Non-Cognitive: Lack of Social Integration and Campus Acclamation

Family’s Socioeconomic Status

Specific Factors That Increase Retention Rates for African American Males

Academics: Retention-Specific Programs (learning communities, First-Year Experience, Advance Number of Retention Offices).

Academic Support Programs: Course offerings, Faculty Interaction with Student, Intrusive Academic Advising, Tutoring Centers, Orientation Programs, Rules and Regulations.


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