When I was younger, Black History Month meant reading the biographies of famous African Americans and writing papers about Civil Rights leaders. Now that I am president and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), I see Black History Month as more than just a time of reflection. It is a time of assessment.
Ideally, success rates among community college students should be equitable across races, and at Phi Theta Kappa, they are. High-achieving Black students and members of Phi Theta Kappa have a 93% success rate, which is 2% higher than the success rate of all PTK members. But when we look at the community college sector, gaps persist.
In a recent six-year tracking study, Black students had the lowest college completion rate (28%) of any other racial and ethnic group. In this same study, 22% of Black students who started at a community college remained enrolled at the end of six years. This was 6% more than White students and 2% less than Asian students. After accounting for all students, the dropout rate of Black community college students was 50%. This was 15% higher than White students and 25% higher than Asian students.
Developing holistic supports
Improving the success of Black students isn’t going to happen by accident — it takes intentional work like the kind that is done through Achieving the Dream. If you are interested in learning about improving academic success of Black students, I strongly encourage you to start with the work of Frank Harris III and Luke Wood. I would also read the 2015 publication “Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges” by the Center for Community College Student Engagement.
What you will learn is that many Black students, and in particular, Black males, have issues identifying as college students. This perception leads to “college is not for me” attitudes that interfere with the development of a sense of belonging in college. As you dig into the literature and the work of colleges doing a great job of closing completion gaps for Black students, you will observe that these colleges have transformed beyond the student success agenda and are fully engaged in the work of equity.
The colleges most successful in increasing success for Black students demonstrate a range of holistic academic, social and basic needs supports for students, including a broad spectrum of activities, clubs and organizations meant to engage students and create a sense of belonging. Mentorship programs and college organizations and clubs have become essential to the fabric of student success than once realized. When developing programs and initiatives to promote equitable outcomes, colleges should ensure they are also providing adequate social support, not in place of, but alongside academic and student services support.
Phi Theta Kappa works to provide academic and social support for students through service, leadership and honors programs. I encourage you to view Phi Theta Kappa as more than “just another club” and recognize our work as a type of equity by providing the kind of opportunities, activities, scholarships and peer engagement that high-achieving minority students need to be successful.
About Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society
Phi Theta Kappa is recognized by the American Association of Community Colleges as the official honor society of community and technical colleges. Its mission is to recognize the academic achievement of students at associate degree-granting colleges and help them to their next steps in life. PTK comprises more than 4.5 million members and nearly 1,300 chapters in 11 nations, with approximately 240,000 active members in the nation’s colleges.