inLove, B. J. (1993). Issues and problems in the retention of black students in predominantly white institutions of higher education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 26(1), 27-36.
Barbara J. Love (1993) takes a strong look at retention issues in her article, Issues and Problems in the Retention of Black Students in Predominantly White Institutions of Higher Education. Published over twenty years ago, this article presents solid information about Black student retention in White universities and factors that cause Black students to drop-out prior to graduation. As a means for future study, this article provides a historical perspective on the issue of Black student retention which can be compared to recent literature on the topic.
The goal of Love’s (1993) article is to identify issues in retention programs that are not traditionally addressed in Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). For years, graduation rates for minorities students, specifically Black students, have been dismal in PWIs. Historically, Black students graduate approximately one third less frequently than their White counterparts (Love, 1993). As a means to remedy the stagnation of Black graduation rates, higher education institutions created significant retention programs to address attrition issues without significant results. However, Love (1993) identifies a research gap between what Black students identify as factors causing them to drop, and what PWI institutions identify as retention issues. Accessible literature showed that most retention programs focus on changing the student and their behaviors, while failing to examine issues of institutionalized racism (Love, 1993).
Using James Meredith, the first Black student to be admitted to the University of Mississippi, as an example of the growing number of Black students who enroll in White institutions, Love (1993), reveals that more students of color are now enrolled in college than ever before, yet there are still low graduation rates. The U.S. Census Bureau data showed that 34% of Black high school graduates attended college in 1976 dwindling down to just 27% in 1983 (Evans, 1985). Additionally, more Black students enrolled in junior or community colleges rather than in four-year institutions (Love, 1993). In 1985, Blacks comprised only 12% of the U.S. population, yet represented only 8% of undergraduate students. PWIs admit nearly 80% of Black college students; however, only 60% of those students received Bachelor’s degrees from those institutions (McCauley, 1988). The drop-out rate for Black students is eight times higher than White students enrolled in the same institution. Love (1993) presents this data to show the discrepancy of Black students enrolled in PWIs as compared to those who actually complete their degree pointing toward a “revolving door that cuts short the promise of educational equity” (p. 28).
Love (1993) draws on Marvalene S. Hughes’ (1987) article, Black Students’ Participation in Higher Education, in which Black students enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) described factors that contributed to their success. Students reported feeling welcome and comfortable in the learning environment in HBCUs. Students attributed the ability to “hang out” with other Black students in their major and residence halls as factors in their comfort. Additionally, students felt at ease talking with professors and staff making connections to student and academic services accessible. On the contrary, experiences for Black students at PWIs are quite different. Black students typically find themselves ignored in classrooms, blocked from campus social life, and harassed by campus police (Noel, Levitz, & Saluri, 1985). Love (1993) goes on to say that “Black students in PWIs must be strong self-starters who are fully independent, with strong defenses to combat stereotypes, fears, alienation and loneliness” (p. 28). Although retention programs have been implemented to improve Black graduation rates in PWIs, however, none address institutionalized racism as a factor in attrition. Love (1993) lists seven categories of factors contributing to Black student retention:
- White racism: overt and covert systems of racial prejudice, bias, and hatred toward Black and other students of color, resulting in the loss of opportunities or advancement
- Institutional leadership: strength of administration to recognize and combat racism within the institution
- Finances: awareness, and availability of financial support through government funding, or personal or familial finances
- Social interaction, cultural dissonance, and environmental incongruence: intra and interpersonal relationships with other students in the institution; the divide between the student’s personal culture and the university culture; the capability of the university to respond to the student’s needs, goals, and aspirations
- Faculty-student interaction: how students feel toward White professors, and comfort level in asking for additional instruction, advice, or information
- Student services: the awareness and friendliness of dining halls, residence halls, gyms, counseling services, and student work positions
- Student characteristics: student’s familial and academic background, self-image, self-esteem and “locus of control” (belief that either internal or external factors decide one’s fate)
Love (1993) uses a study by Noel, Levitz, and Saluri (1985) entitled, Increasing Student Retention, in which the authors evaluated several college retention programs examining the factors mentioned above. They found that no program addressed issues of racism or leadership within the institution, and the majority of programs were focused on student characteristics as the main factor of Black student attrition. Love (1993) concludes and recommends that retention programs in PWIs must address the full range of retention problems affecting Black students rather than concentrating on factors institutions feel most comfortable addressing. White institutions should develop programs to eliminate racism by examining policies, practices, and individual attitudes of students and faculty, which may have an effect on the student’s course load, academic major choice, satisfaction with the university, and overall performance (Love, 1993). Finally, training for institutional leadership should be required for the efficacy of all retention programs. The administrations of PWIs are traditionally comprised of White men who attended White institutions themselves during an era where Black enrollment was not a topic of interest. Such training enables institutional leaders to understand and recognize racism in order to provide access and educational equity.
As stated previously, this article is quite dated; yet, it provides significant historical data that will allow me to compare factors in Black student retention in decades past to current factors. Love (1993) uses a clear, concise writing style makes each section of the article understandable and purposeful; there is no uncertainty in the content. She introduced the article by discussing the disparity of Black student retention, which immediately caught my attention, before moving into significant factors and accessible literature on the topic showing cohesiveness within the content. Additionally, Love (1993) shows no trepidation about the issue of institutionalized racism; a topic typically avoided and deemphasized in higher education research. This article is essential for my research because it focuses specifically on retention programs and the lack of recognition of racial factors in Black student graduation rates. The most intriguing point of this article for me is that Love (1993) takes issue with placing responsibility on the student to manage their own educational experience, and that retention programs focus on the student’s personal characteristics and their ability to integrate themselves into the university culture; an immense, and unbearable task for marginalized students. I plan to explore the area of student responsibility in retention and integration in PWIs within my own research. Additional areas of research could be to compare successful Black students at PWI’s to those who are unsuccessful using information from such research to improve current retention programs. Also, the connection to “locus of control” and retention should be examined to see if Black students typically feel that external factors such as campus climate, student services, faculty, social and academic organizations are ultimately responsible for their experience at White institutions. Overall, Love’s (1993) article compliments my research initiatives by providing uncomfortable, yet important information on how retention programs have failed Black students, giving me a foundation to explore current issues and trends in minority student retention.
Berry, B. (1983). Blacks in predominantly white insitutions of higher education. In J. D. William, The state of black america (pp. 295-318). New York, NY: National Urban League.
Evans, G. (1985, August 7). Social, financial barrier blamed for curbing Blacks’ access to college. Chronicle of Higher Edcuation, 1-15.
Hughes, M. (1987). Black students’ participation in higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 532-55.
Love, B. J. (1993). Issues and problems in the retention of black students in predominantly white institutions of higher edcuation. Equity & Excellence in Education, 26(1), 27-36.
McCauley, D. (1988). Effects of specific factors on blacks’ persistence at a predominantly white university. Journal of College Student Development, 45-51.
Noel, L., Levitz, R., & Saluri, D. (1985). Increasing student retention. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.