New Center at Penn GSE Releases Report on Black Male Student Success in College

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820February 6, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — 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.”

Shaun Harper, the Center’s director and a professor at Penn GSE, examined black male undergraduate students who did well and maximized their college experiences.  Harper studied how these students overcame hurdles that typically disadvantage their peers and amassed portfolios of experiences that made them competitive for internships, jobs and admission to highly selective graduate and professional schools.  

Harper interviewed 219 black male achievers at 42 public and private historically black colleges and universities, liberal arts colleges, public and highly selective private research universities and comprehensive state universities in 20 states.

Rather than studying their success from a “deficit model,” Harper conducted his research based on an “anti-deficit achievement framework.” Instead of looking at what went wrong, Harper looked at what factors and institutional practices enabled the achievers to succeed.

The study examined topics like selecting a college, paying for college, making the transition to college, engagement while in college and  responding productively to racism.

 “Despite all that is stacked against them – low teacher expectations, insufficient academic preparation for college-level work, racist and culturally unresponsive campus environments -- black males still find ways to succeed.  For nearly a decade, I’ve argued that those who are interested in black male student success have much to learn from black men who have actually been successful,” Harper said in the report.

 “But, the most surprising finding was also the most disappointing finding – nearly every student we interviewed said it was the first time that someone had sat him down and asked how he had successfully navigated his way to and through higher education, what compelled him to be engaged and what he learned that could help improve achievement and engagement among black male collegians.”

Harper noted the importance that family and parental influence had on the students.  For instance, the overwhelming majority of students always knew that they would attend college because of their parents and family members always talked about it.  Study participants also remembered at least one influential teacher who helped to solidify interest in attending college at an early age.

Several achievers shared how their high school guidance counselors more often did more harm than good.  As an example, participants indicated that their guidance counselors suggested that applying to elite private institutions was “pointless, because they stood no chance of being admitted,” or hinted that attending a historically black college or university might disadvantage them in some way.   Most of the counselors were white, Harper said.

In the study, Harper explored the role of structured mentoring and college transition programs, the value and critiques about historically black fraternities, the students’ views of religion and spirituality, perspectives on masculinity and collegial and romantic relationships with black women.  He found that active engagement inside and outside the classroom specifically helps black undergraduate men to stay on a successful path.

Harper makes several recommendations for improving black male college student success, including equipping parents with knowledge about higher education, preparing K-12 and post-secondary professionals, connecting black male teens to effective college preparatory experiences, removing financial barriers to college success, establishing successful transitional programs, addressing toxic racial climates on campus, creating venues for brotherly bonding and peer support and establishing affirming spaces for gay, bisexual and questioning students.

The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education unites scholars from schools of education and other academic departments who conduct research on race, racism, campus racial climates and topics pertaining to equity in education.








Inside Higher Education, Feb. 6, 2012.  "When Black Men Succeed."