Two-year colleges are grappling with need to focus on student success outcomes driven by increasingly strict accountability standards implemented by state and federal government, while at the same time facing declining resources and increasing enrollments of diverse, underprepared students. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (2010), more than 40% of all African American students enrolled in postsecondary education are enrolled in two-year colleges. A review of the literature indicated that improving persistence and completion rates for African American students is a challenge that two-year colleges face.
This study examined whether institutional support services, policies, and programs influenced the completion and graduation of African American students at select Ohio’s two-year colleges. The study examined (a) general institutional interventions, such as advising, mentoring, orientation programs and courses, tutoring, and departments or programs that specifically target African American or other underrepresented students, as well as (b) special programs or staffing configurations dedicated to supporting the needs of African American students.
Two major gaps in the literature were addressed in this study: 1) the impact of interventions on African American completion and graduation enrolled at two-year colleges; and 2) the impact of interventions which specifically focus on the completion and graduation of African American students, e.g. Culture centers, Office of Minority Affairs, or Multicultural Centers.
The researcher’s interest in this study is due to his work in the field of college student retention and student success as well as the desire to gain and share knowledge about the impact of specific interventions in promoting the success of African American college students enrolled at two-year colleges. The researcher’s working knowledge of the subject matter and familiarity with many of the two-year colleges in the population aided in completion of this study; however, to prevent bias, the researcher used the literature and the findings to guide his conclusions
The research included an observational study in which institutional intervention data were collected using a questionnaire sent to chief student affairs officers (CSAOs) at 14 (61%) of Ohio’s 23 of two-year colleges with an enrollment consisting of a minimum of 5% African American students. The CSAOs were asked whether particular interventions were used at their institutions; if so, these CSAOs were also asked to rate the impact of the intervention on completion and graduation rates for African American students. The respondents were given the choice of rating the intervention as having “no impact,” “some impact,” or “high impact.”
In addition to the survey, institutional data were collected from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and analyzed to determine whether the predictor variables influenced the outcome variable, three-year completion and graduation rates of first-time, full-time African American students.
A total of 52 variables, including institutional characteristics, student enrollment, and institutional interventions, were included in this study. The 13 institutional and student enrollment variables were determined based on the IPEDS website, and 39 institutional intervention variables were determined using the questionnaire.
Two of the 13 institutional characteristics and student enrollment variables—(a) the percentage of African American students enrolled and (b) the percentage of African American students enrolled in remedial math and English classes—were found to be significant predictors of African American completion and graduation rates.
A total of 16 of the 39 institutional intervention variables from the survey were rated by the CSAOs as having a high impact on completion and graduation rates. Although the results were not statistically significant, they do reflect relationships that may be of practical significance. The 16 intervention variables were grouped into the following categories for analysis:
- Developmental education/at-risk student interventions
- Early alert/warning systems
- New-student orientation programs or courses for credit
- Advising for first-year students (mandatory)
- Mentorship programs
- Special office or department which targets the needs of African American or underrepresented students
Based on the findings of this study, it can be concluded that the following variables were correlated with African American completion and graduation rates : (1) use of the early alert/warning system; (2) use of supplemental orientation program or course for African American, at-risk, or underrepresented students; (3) implementation of mentorship program for students in select academic programs; (4) implementation of mentorship program for at-risk, African American, or underrepresented students; and (5) use of peer mentors.
A sixth institutional intervention (i.e., special office or department that provides programs or services targeting African American students) was included in the analysis due to the importance of that intervention to this study. Jenkins (2006) has emphasized the importance of interventions that target African American students by stating that “the clearest difference in high and low impact colleges is targeted support and specialized services for minority students” (p. 40).
Although it was difficult to draw a meaningful quantitative conclusion from the findings related to the institutional interventions due to the small size of the sample in the study, the CSAO impact ratings provided information that supports the literature describing the importance of effective interventions in increasing completion and graduation rates for African American students enrolled at Ohio’s two-year colleges.
The findings of this study provided opportunities for further research using a national population of two-year colleges that have a special office or department dedicated to serving the needs of African American students. This approach would ensure a sufficient sample size to make meaningful quantitative conclusions. Further research
may also incorporate follow-up case studies focused on groups of CSAOs and administrators as well as student focus groups.
This research provided a foundation for developing an understanding of specific institutional characteristics that serve as predictors of African American student completion and graduation rates and how impact ratings by key administrators can be used to guide research on the impact of those interventions on African American student completion and graduation rates. This study added to the scarce body of research that has examined the impact of institutional support services, policies, and programs on the completion and graduation rates of African American students enrolled at two-year colleges