The Men of Color Leadership Institute
The academic success outcomes of men of color remain deficient in community colleges compared to other student groups (Valliani, 2015). While many men begin their educational journey at community colleges, most African American and Latino men do not reach degree completion (Center for Community College Student Engagement, 2014). Men of color often report that they feel unwelcome in college environments because of negative stereotypes associated with their physical appearance and challenged by academic unpreparedness and financial stress (Gardenhire-Cooks, Collado, Martin, & Castro, 2010; Wood, 2012). This can lead to minority males’ internalization of these stereotypes and reduced academic performance, which can result in these students leaving school (Steele & Aronson, 2000). Contrastingly, having peers in clubs and organizations on campus provides men of color a significant advantage toward success (Hilton, Wood, & Lewis, 2012). Having a sense of belonging is crucial to the success of minority males in community colleges because it develops resiliency by influencing their perception of connectedness with the campus (Harris & Wood, 2013; Strayhorn, 2012). To this end, the Presidents’ Round Table hosts an annual leadership institute for men of color in community colleges to address these challenges and provide extensive support for high achieving students.
Men of Color Leadership Institute
The Presidents’ Round Table (PRT) hosts an annual Men of Color Leadership Institute (MOCLI), a nationwide three-day program in different sites every October. The institute focuses on academic excellence, personal and professional development, leadership development, the role of men of color both on and off-campus, community service, peer support, and cultural enrichment. Participants engage in large and small group activities, interact with role model motivational speakers, discuss current issues affecting diverse communities, and practice problem solving using team approaches. Students are placed in groups at the beginning of the institute to enhance the bonding experience and the groups are challenged to address an issue by the end of the institute. Institute facilitators judge each group presentation and one is selected as outstanding based on practicality and leadership skills displayed by group members. This investigation of MOCLI examines who these men are and what contributes to their success in college.
For the past six years, 261 MOCLI participants have completed a survey of demographics, financial aid use, courses completed, grades, health and learning challenges, services used on campus, perceived barriers, motivators, and club/organization involvement. Survey questions included items requiring varied responses, such as dichotomous (yes/no), five-point Likert-like scales (1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neutral, 5 = strongly agree), and text entry.
All conference attendees are encouraged to complete the survey. Three focus groups with seven to ten randomly selected Institute attendees occurred each year for the past four years (2014-2017). Correlational analyses are used to determine associations between independent variables (e.g., club involvement, developmental courses take) and student success outcomes indicators (e.g., GPA). From these, multiple linear regressions determine the predictive power of any such variable on student success.
The survey data are used to quantitatively observe longitudinal trends among men of color at the annual institute, while the focus group data are used to better interpret the surveys. This mixed methods approach provides a more comprehensive picture of participant experiences.
Three-quarters of the students identify as Black/African American (75.5 percent), followed by 18.3 percent as Latino/Hispanic. Ages range between 18 and 55 years old. Two-thirds (60.3 percent) of students identify as first-generation college students. Approximately 78 percent of the students report being employed—17.9 percent full-time and 78.3 percent part-time. Nearly a quarter of students report having between one and three dependents (23.8 percent); over 5 percent have four or more dependents. Over half of the students reported being “very involved” in clubs and organizations on their campus (58.5 percent).
Less than half of the students had to take developmental reading and English courses (40.5 percent and 46.2 percent, respectively). However, a majority of the students took a developmental math course (65.1 percent). When asked about their characteristics as students, most agree that they seek help when needed (87.2 percent), do not give up easily (90 percent), are highly motivated (89.7 percent), want to earn a degree (96.1 percent), want to become a professional (96.1 percent), and plan to learn throughout life (96.8 percent).
When asked about career barriers, more than half of the students report experiencing financial (75.7 percent), family (52.8 percent) and academic (51.8 percent) challenges. The most frequently reported motivators are “the desire for a better life” (83.3 percent), followed by “to be a role model” (67 percent) and “to help others” (66 percent).
Multiple regression analyses were used to determine which motivators significantly predicted GPA. When motivators were entered as predictors of GPA, the model emerged significant (R2 = .275, F (11,79) = 2.346, p < .05). The “desire for a better life,” “coach,” and “spiritual guidance” were the only significant driving factors of GPA (B = .376, p <.01; B = .278, p <.05; and B = -.257, p <.05, respectively). Club and organizational involvement did not significantly predict GPA (R2 = .000, F (1, 251) = .875, p < .350; B = .059, p = .350).
Focus groups were conducted with seven to ten students from 2014-2017 as part of the institute. After open coding analysis, participant responses were grouped according to emergent themes: barriers to student success, motivators, and minority male programs.
Barriers to Student Success
When asked about what barriers men face while in the community college, one of the most frequent themes was managing time between family, work, and school. Many students have obligations to their families at home such as being present with parents, caring for younger siblings, or caring for their own children.
Another barrier was asking for help from faculty and staff at the institution. Students report not having the resources or not knowing what resources are available to them. It is often difficult for students to become comfortable with the culture at the institution. As one student remarks: “One of my main challenges, especially at the community college level, is being afraid to ask for help when you don’t know something.”
Students described “code-switching,” or adapting to and gaining competence in a new environment or culture (Garot, 2010), as a common social barrier when attending college. Men of color often come from backgrounds that are vastly different from the academic culture. They find themselves having to adjust the way they talk, act, and conduct themselves when they are on campus compared to when they are in their home communities. One participant explains that when men of color are at college, acting as they would in their neighborhoods and with families and friends, White people may ask “Why do you act like that? Why do you talk like that? What is that dialect?” but then those who don’t attend college ask “Man, what you doing in school? Think you’re better than us, college boy?!”
The most frequent motivator among minority male students is a desire for a better life. One student describes one of his motivations like this: “Somebody told me that I couldn’t do it, so somebody told me that, like, I’ll be dead before I was 16. And that motivated me.” Men of color also describe how they want a degree because they do not like the job they hold or previously held. Although there is some variability in the underlying reason, students describe a common theme of bettering their current economic state. Students also want to be better role models for the younger members in their home communities.
Minority Male Programs
Minority male initiatives at community colleges provide spaces for men of color to gain access to services and meet other students. They catalyze a strong sense of camaraderie by providing opportunities for students to empathize with other students who have endured similar struggles. Participants describe that the minority male programs at their schools are instrumental to their personal leadership development as well. Students look forward to attending school more when they are involved in programs that are conspicuously dedicated to aiding them in their success; they perceive school as “more satisfying.”
This study explores beyond educational barriers and identifies indicators of success among high achieving men of color using a mixed methods approach. Based on the findings, men of color described barriers to their success that are consistent with the literature. The barriers and motivators described by students revolve around a sense of belonging as a factor of resiliency. Many of the men in the MOCLI discuss developing a sense of belonging through involvement with campus programs and student organizations. The results of this study are supported by Hargrove’s (2014) research on minority males’ experiences impacted by a disconnected sense of belonging.
Students describe family as both a barrier and a motivator throughout their academic journeys. On one end, students view family as a motivator because they feel a responsibility to act as the provider for their parents and children. These men communicate the importance of achieving academic success in the community college system as a means to economically support for their family. Conversely, men of color feel overwhelmed and struggle to find a balance between fulfilling academic obligations while still devoting quality time to their families.
Men of color note that they must code-switch between their colleges and their homes. Having to assimilate into the academic culture of the college while subsequently staying true to their cultural communities is a factor that many men of color struggle with daily. In their pursuit to receive support from their institution, men of color also struggle with not knowing the correct approach based on their cultural background. Furthermore, some men receive negative feedback from their communities when they return home due to their adapted code-switching while attending college. The undue pressure to perform as a result of stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 2000) may further contribute to academic underperformance.
The MOCLI is one intervention that contributes to the success of men of color. The high achievers who attend the institute are the future leaders of their families, communities, and professions. Other professional associations should replicate this program which effectively brings men of color together with role models to address best practices in education and leadership.
Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2014). Aspirations to achievement: Men of color and community colleges (A special report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement). Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, Program in Higher Education Leadership. Retrieved from www.ccsse.org/docs/MOC_Special_Report.pdf
Gardenshire-Crooks, A., Collado, H., Martin, K., & Castro, A. (2010). Terms of engagement: Men of color discuss their experiences in community college. MDRC. Retrieved from files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED508982.pdf
Garot, R. (2010). Who you claim: Performing gang identity in school and on the streets. New York: NYU Press.
Hargrove, D. T. (2014). This is how we did it: A study of Black male resilience and attainment at a Hispanic Serving Institution through the lenses of critical race theory (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs).
Harris III, F., & Wood, J. L. (2013). Student success for men of color in community colleges: A review of published literature and research, 1998-2012. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(3), 174-185.
Hilton, A. A., Wood, J. L., & Lewis, C. W. (Eds.). (2012). Black males in postsecondary education: Examining their experiences in diverse institutional contexts. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5), 797.
Strayhorn, T. L. (2012). Satisfaction and retention among African American men at two-year community colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 36(5), 358-375.
Valliani, N. (2015). The state of higher education in California: Blacks. The Campaign for College Opportunity. Retrieved from files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED571120.pdf
Wood, J. L. (2012, May-June). From the right to fail to the right to succeed: Black males in community colleges. About Campus, 17, 30-32, doi.org/10.1002/abc.21078
Sharon L. Blackman is a Strategic Learning Consultant with Dallas County Community College District. Dawn Person is the Director of the Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership (C-REAL) at California State University Fullerton. Tim Sechang and Ezeudo Egeonuigwe are Research Assistants at C-REAL.
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.