Finally, Something that Works!

Brooks, M., Jones, C., & Burt, I. (2013). Are African-American male undergraduate retention programs sucessful? An evaluation of an undergraduate African-American male retention program. Journal of African American Studies, 17(2), 206-221.

There are hundreds of articles about minority retention issues in higher education discussing retention programs that fail to retain minority students. However, very few discuss successful retention programs and how they can be effectively implemented in Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Brooks, Jones, and Burt (2013) do just that in their article Are African-American Male Undergraduate Retention Programs Successful? An Evaluation of an Undergraduate African-American Male Retention Program. Many colleges and universities have solid retention programs, particularly based on Tinto’s (1999) model. Characteristics of solid retention models are that they provide high expectations for students, give sound advice to understanding and retaining curriculum, provide excellent support in academic and social integration, enabling the student to feel valued and encouraged (Tinto, 1999). While Tinto’s (1999) approach is practical, it addresses a broad range of student populations, lacking consideration of marginalized populations whose present different retention issues than what Tinto examined. Brooks et al (2013) attack Tinto’s (1999) integration model, by proposing that retention integration models require Black students to “unlearn their culture in substitution for the established campus climate” (p. 207).  Rather, Brooks et al (2013) assert that matriculation rates increase when students of color are able to maintain their cultural identities.

The goal of Brooks’ et al (2013) article is to present findings on a study that provided a retention intervention program specifically for Black males in a PWI. First, the researchers specified the importance of a college degree for African American males. The Chronicle of Higher Education (2009) showed that in 2007, 46,400 Black male students received a college degree compared to 90,990 Black female students showing the imbalance of earning potential between Black males and females which ultimately impacts the economic ability of Black families. Because Black women generally search for Black men as potential mates, the lack of Black men in college precludes them from dating, or forces them to date men who have less earning potential affecting the family socioeconomic status. Next, the researchers discussed the success of National College Athletic Association (NCAA) models in retaining Black males. In 2009, Black male college athletes graduated at a rate of 49%, while only 38% percent non-athlete Black males completed their degree program (NCAA Research Staff, 2009). An important fact, the level of support student-athletes receive (e.g. support services, orientation programs, tutoring, financial support, mentorship programs, etc.) is crucial as many athletes score low on entrance exams, yet, graduate at higher rates than Black males who do not participate in collegiate sports programs.

Using a mixed method approach, specifically a QUAN-Qual model, Brooks et al (2013) devised a four-prong approached to creating a retention program. A QUAN-qual method is research method in which both qualitative and quantitative methods are used; however, a greater percentage of the research is conducted used a quantitative approach, denoting the use of capital letters when discussing this research approach. First, they invited 136 African-American freshman males, between the ages of 18-21 years old (90 completed the study) to participate in the semester-long study. Second, participants were required to enroll in a for-credit seminar course which met for one hour each week. The course covered topics applicable to Black male college students, with lessons presented on self-esteem, academic and social support, faculty connection, and financial resources. Coping methods for how to recognize and properly deal with racism on campus were integrated into curriculum as well. Next, students were paired with upperclassmen mentors who shared similar majors, interests, and backgrounds as the freshman students. Students were required to meet with their peer-mentor once a month to discuss coursework, social, and personal issues the student may be facing. Finally, the data collection process was implemented through the pre-test at the start of the semester, and a post-test (final exam) which allowed researchers to investigate the students’ integration into college life. A forty-question final examination asked questions centered on such constructs as social integration, self-esteem, academic culture, and mentor/mentee relationships.

What Brooks et al (2013) found was that students gained an understanding of the academic acculturation process over the semester, a sound understanding of academic advising/support, and where to get help for social and academic issues such as counseling and tutoring services. Specifically important to the students was the mentorship aspect of the program. Students shared that having a personal connection with senior students provided positive role-models that helped them shape their identity as a college-educated Black male.

I love this article! Why? Because it discussed what works, rather than what doesn’t work in retention programs; not to mention it is a good example of an mixed-method, action research study. As stated earlier, anyone can learn the deficiencies in college retention programs and why they do not serve minority students, but, very little attention is paid to programs that are actually succeeding in retaining minority students. For the purpose of my research, I want to attack current retention models in PWIs that inefficiently maintain Black students, and, I want to pose a solution that works! Using the well-respected model by Tinto (1999), Brooks et al (2013) put a spin on it that targeted a very specific population that often gets overlooked. The uniqueness of this approach makes it a solid contribution to the field with solid data using both a qualitative and quantitative approach to paint a very clear picture of how such a program could be beneficial for retention efforts. I realize there are limitations to implementing this type of retention program. The university would need to approve this type of course, a coordinator of the sort would need to promote and enroll students in the course, while a faculty-person would have to be recruited to create the curriculum and teach the course. This is very challenging for many PWIs, mainly because the culture of the environment discourages of any type of ethno-subculture assimilation within the institution. That’s a conversation for another day (we can chat about it in the comments, if you wish). Nonetheless, this article is useful for future research to positively show what a minority retention program could be, what it looks like, and how it impacts academic excellence in higher education.


Brooks, M., Jones, C., & Burt, I. (2013). Are African-American male undergraduate retention programs sucessful? An evaluation of an undergraduate African-American male retention program. Journal of African American Studies, 17(2), 206-221.

Chronicle of Higher Education. (2009). Degrees conferred by racial and ethnic group. Almanac of Higher Education.

NCAA Research Staff. (2009). Research related to graduation rates of Division I student athletes 1984-2002.

Tinto, V. (1999). Taking student retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of college. NACADA Journal, 19, 5-9.