The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, a new center at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, has released its inaugural report, “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education: A Report from the National Black Male College Achievement Study, which can be found here. Shaun R. Harper, Director of the Center and an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, focused the study on Black male college undergrads who did well in school. He analyzed a group of 219 Black men classified as achievers at 42 public and private colleges and universities, and examined the factors and institutional practices enabled these young men to succeed.

Refreshingly, Harper conducted his research based on what worked for the students rather than what interfered with their ability to succeed. He did so because he believes the emphasis by researchers and others on Black men’s educational failures has helped “shape America’s low expectations for Black men”. As he explains in his introduction to the study:

For nearly a decade, I have argued that those who are interested
in Black male student success have much to learn from Black men
who have actually been successful. To increase their educational
attainment, the popular one-sided emphasis on failure and low performing Black male undergraduates must be counterbalanced
with insights gathered from those who somehow manage to
navigate their way to and through higher education, despite
all that is stacked against them…

So what worked for these young men? Parental Involvement was one of the key influential factors. According to the study, the participants’ parents consistently conveyed “non-negotiable expectations” that they would pursue college, as it was the most viable pathway to social uplift and success. This was the case even though nearly half the participants came from homes where neither parent had attained a bachelor’s degree.

Moreover, most of the achievers’ parents and family members more aggressively sought out educational resources to ensure their success, including tutoring and academic support programs, college preparatory initiatives, and summer academies and camps. Other contributing influences include at least one influential teacher who sparked their interest in attending college, adequate financial support to pay for college, and upperclassmen at their schools who gave advice to help smooth their way.

Sadly, the most surprising result of the study was that almost every successful student interviewed said that it was the first time he had been asked how he achieved his success and what could he share from his experience that could be helpful to future students.

Dr. Harper’s interesting and informative study brings an important and welcome perspective to the question of how to help Black men succeed in college. GCP looks forward to more to come from Dr. Harper and the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.