Charting a New Agenda: Being More Intentional about Examining the Experiences of Black Students at HBCUs

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Robert T. Palmer

As a graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) for my PhD in Higher Education Administration and an active researcher on HBCUs, I am happy to see that there is more empirical research on these institutions. Research on HBCUs focuses on a variety of areas, such as faculty governance, desegregation, college presidents, and their success in disproportionally producing minority STEM graduates. With that said, there is still a need for scholars to be more intentional about conducting research on Black students at HBCUs. Unfortunately, most of the research on students at HBCUs compares the experiences of Black students at these institutions with their counterparts at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). While this research helps to demonstrate the relevance of HBCUs by highlighting the supportive campus climate they foster, researchers must be more intentional about providing a contemporary examination of Black students—both male and female—enrolled in these institutions.

Additional research on Black students at HBCUs must go beyond what the literature has consistently found to be true about these students—they are immersed in a supportive climate that helps to facilitate their psychosocial development and maximize their academic success. I am not suggesting researchers stop discussing what many consider to be a unique feature of HBCUs—their supportive, nurturing, and family oriented climates. I think highlighting these aspects periodically is critical; however, if we do not challenge ourselves to focus on other aspects of student experiences at HBCUs, we are limiting our ability to provide HBCUs with best practices to help them increase student retention and persistence. For example, more attention needs to focus on how HBCUs can promote Black male engagement on campus. Moreover, more research should be devoted to studying the experiences of successful students at HBCUs to see what lessons, if any, could be extended to other students on campus to help increase their success. Furthermore, we have to be more intentional of studying the within group differences among Black students at HBCUs. Not all students experience HBCUs in the same way.

One question that certainly warrants greater exploration about students at HBCUs is the challenges they encounter while working toward degree completion. There is ample evidence that indicates HBCUs disproportionately admit students who are low-income, first-generation, and dependent on financial aid. Students who fall into one or more of these categories may face certain challenges, such as balancing the need to work part-time or full-time while attending classes to support their education or lacking access to cultural capital (e.g., knowledge and skills) to help facilitate their collegiate success. While having some understanding of the characteristics of HBCU students as well as some of the challenges these characteristics may engender is critical, it is equally important to be attentive to other challenges HBCU students may experience. Unfortunately, as with the case for research on students at HBCUs, research that delineates challenges to the success of HBCU students is lacking.

HBCUs can play an important role in helping researchers produce contemporary knowledge on Black students on their campuses. One of the ways they can do this is by allowing researchers, who have an IRB, onto their campuses to conduct interviews, focus groups or engage in other data collecting activities with their students. I understand that HBCUs are concerned with allowing “outsiders” on their campuses to collect data because institutional leaders think that they might use the data to paint a negative picture of these institutions. I think this is a valid concern. I am not suggesting that HBCUs open up their campuses to just anyone under the guise of conducting research on their students. I am suggesting, however, that HBCUs be more proactive in working with researchers. The outcome of this will provide HBCU leaders with better insight about some of the contemporary experiences and challenges of Black students and help HBCUs to implement best practices to improve student outcomes.

Dr. Robert T. Palmer is an associate professor of Student Affairs Administration at the State University of New York at Binghamton and an affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Embracing the LGBTQA Community at HBCUs

 

Larry Walker

Larry Walker

In the past HBCUs have been criticized for failing to support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally (LGBTQA) students, faculty and staff. A smaller number of HBCUs have LGBTQA organizations in comparison to Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Currently only 21% of HBCU’s have LGBTQA student organizations on campus (Campus Pride, 2013). The small percentage of organizations may reflect the ongoing struggle within the Black community to embrace people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity. Despite the struggles, several HBCUs have taken steps to ensure LGBTQA students and faculty members feel safe and welcomed.

In 2012, Bowie State University in Maryland became a trailblazer when they opened their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) center. The center was the first of its kind to be unveiled at an HBCU. HBCUs including North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University have also opened student centers designed to support students from the LGBTQA community.

Providing safe spaces for LGBTQA students is important considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide in comparison to students of the same age (2014). More specifically, Kirby (2011) found that before the age of eighteen, 36% of African-American lesbians in comparison to 21% of White lesbians attempted suicide.

HBCUs including Florida A & M University (FAMU) have continued to make progress towards creating an inclusive environment by adopting non-discriminatory language that protects students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, HBCU’s have partnered with organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) a national LGBTQ advocacy group, to provide professional development and leadership opportunities for students, faculty, school administrators and staff.

The HRC’s annual HBCU Leadership and Career Summit provides opportunities for students from HBCUs to come together to discuss a variety of issues. In addition, HBCUs including Morgan State University (MSU) have advisory boards, which sponsor various activities to raise campus awareness. MSU sponsors a symposium that welcomes students, faculty, school administers, researchers and activists throughout the United States. The symposium examines how issues relating to sexual orientation, gender expression and identity intersect with race and religion.

Although HBCUs have taken several steps toward creating inclusive environments, there are three significant areas they should strengthen:

  • Increase the number of LGBTQA Centers: HBCUs should reach out to school administrators at Bowie State, North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University to discuss the benefits of opening an LGBTQA center. Students need a safe place to meet and discuss issues within the LGBTQA community. Opening a center will raise the visibility of LGBTQA students on campus and allow invitations to open dialogue.
  • Adopt non-discriminatory language that protects students, faculty and staff regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity: Every HBCU should have very clear policies within their student handbook that protect the rights of every member of the campus community. The policies should be consistent with other colleges and universities that support LGBTQA students.
  • Increase efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment: HBCU administrators should work with residential life, campus police, faculty and staff to ensure students do not have to endure physical or verbal assaults. LGBTQA students, faculty members and staff should feel valued regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity. In addition, ensuring the entire campus community has undergone sensitivity training is critical to creating an inclusive environment.

Collectively, HBCUs can work with students, faculty and staff members to create an inclusive environment that supports individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.

Larry Walker is currently a Research Fellow in the School of Graduate Studies and Doctoral Candidate at Morgan State University in the Urban Educational Leadership program.

 

Recognizing the Critical Importance of AANAPISIs

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By Kiran Ahuja

 

Higher education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy. In this decade, employment in jobs requiring higher education will grow more rapidly than employment in jobs that do not. Of the 30 fastest growing occupations, more than half require postsecondary education. Moreover, a person with a bachelor’s degree or higher makes $32,744 more annually than a person who does not complete high school. Higher education is now the clearest pathway into the middle class. Recognizing the profound differences a college degree can make, President Obama has set a goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

In order to accomplish the President’s goal, we must focus more attention on the low college attendance rate of underserved students in the U.S. Inaccurately perceived by many to be primarily doctors, engineers, and scientists, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are often absent from conversations about equity in education. However, in reality, many AAPIs face significant barriers within education, including limited English and low educational attainment. One in three AAPIs has limited English proficient and only 14.5 percent of Hmong, 13 percent of Laotian, and 18.1 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a bachelor’s degree or higher. As AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.—expected to more than double in number to 47 million by 2060, we must develop, replicate and scale best practices to better serve this student population.

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) play a critical role in fulfilling the President’s 2020 goal. By providing culturally relevant student services, curricular and academic program development, and resource and research opportunities, AANAPISIs pilot best practices ripe for replication and scale. Additionally, AANAPISIs serve 40 percent of all AAPI students, including hundreds of high need, low income learners. That is why supporting and promoting AANAPISIs is essential and why the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are taking concrete steps to remove barriers and support these programs and institutions.

In July, the Department of Education and the White House Initiative took a major step in this direction by clarifying that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and other minority serving institutions delineated under Part F of the Higher Education Act. Now, it is the Initiative’s hope that AANAPISIs will avail themselves of federal grants and other opportunities available to postsecondary institutions enrolling significant numbers of undergraduate minority students.

The Department’s website contains information on available grants and directions on how to apply for them. Also, the Initiative has collaborated with Grants.gov to offer free webinar training sessions, geared toward organizations with limited experience applying for government grants. For more information about online and regional training opportunities, please email us at WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov.

The Initiative recognizes AANAPISIs as one of the most promising means of supporting minority students, particularly AAPI students. We remain committed to helping AANAPISIs provide curricular development, research capacity and culturally relevant student services for all their students, many of whom are underserved.

Watch and share this animated video about AANAPISIs and post on your college website.

 

Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

A Penn CMSI Summer Intern Story

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Yvette Booker

During a visit to Beloit College in February of this year, Marybeth Gasman met Daniel “Danny” Corral, a junior majoring in history and education. Danny recalls the first time he spoke with Marybeth: “I sat down with my lunch and was all set to just observe the discussion she was leading, but since there were only about 5 other people there, I had to participate in the conversation. She asked me to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ It was such an open-ended question and I wondered, who is this person and how am I supposed to answer?” Danny’s radiant smile and his warm presence as he answered her questions impressed Marybeth. Recalling that first encounter, she says: “I was so impressed by his ability to think on his feet and at that moment I could tell, he genuinely cared about the opportunities he was receiving in college.” After the luncheon, Marybeth learned about Danny’s budding interest in education and heard about his accomplishments on the Beloit campus from his supervisor.

Danny’s interest in education stems from a social studies teacher: “I had a social studies teacher that was really inspiring to me and I thought, I can teach and guide students through the school process as well.” As a McNair Scholar and teaching assistant for Beloit College’s introductory education course, Danny’s future aspirations include pursuing his PhD in education.

After hearing Marybeth’s guest lecture on Minority Serving Institutions and participating in her luncheon discussion, Danny became interested in learning more about MSIs. Marybeth discussed the Center and a possible student internship and Danny admitted he researched Dr. Gasman as soon as he left the luncheon and read more about HBCUs and HSIs. Danny decided then he would find a way to get to Philadelphia!

Danny arrived in June to begin his six-week internship. The work the Center does with HSIs was of major interest to Danny and he was able to work on projects related to Latino teachers, students’ bilingual programs, and authored a forthcoming report on HSIs. Under Marybeth’s mentorship, Danny produced a report focused on programs and services at emerging HSIs (those institutions with 15-24% Hispanic enrollment) and compared them to HSIs (those institutions with Hispanic enrollments well above 25%). In addition, Danny explored the steps and programs emerging HSIs are taking to become prominent HSIs and how they are currently serving the Hispanic populations at their institutions.

All work and no play, no way! In addition to his work at CMSI, Danny had plenty of time to enjoy the relaxed pace of Penn’s summer campus, hang out with new friends and explore Philadelphia. We are very proud of Danny’s accomplishments and we’re thrilled about the future of our summer internship program. Do you know any aspiring MSI researchers? Send them in the direction of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. We look forward to mentoring many more talented students in the upcoming years.

Yvette Booker is a Public Relations and Marketing Specialist at the Center of Minority Serving Institutions.

MSI Degree Completion: Using Data for Fair Comparisons

Toby J. Park & Stella M. Flores

Toby J. Park & Stella M. Flores

Yes—graduation rates at HSIs and HBCUs are, on average, lower than those at traditional institutions, but so is the average level of academic preparation of incoming students. Not to mention the fact that HSIs and HBCUs are often underfunded. Given that the inputs are different, should we be surprised that the outputs are, too?

The reality is that HSIs and HBCUs are often enrolling students who may not have another chance to go to college, and reap its associated benefits. Is it fair, therefore, to compare these students’ likelihood of completing college to those who were able to attend a more selective institution? In a recently released study (Flores & Park, 2014), we use data on high school graduates in Texas to see what happens to the likelihood of completing a college degree at HSIs and HBCUs when we employ more “equalized” comparison groups. That is, comparing students who attend MSIs to their very similar counterparts who attend traditional institutions, based on the data available. The data, while not perfect, represent a great advantage over other data sources used to date in regard to capturing important details about a student’s academic preparation but also where they went to high school and their local community contexts.

In 2002, only 26% of Black students who enrolled in a HBCU had taken an AP or IB course, compared to 45% of Black students who enrolled at a predominately white institution. And, only 54% of Hispanic students who enrolled in an HSI had taken trigonometry, compared to 62% of Hispanic students who enrolled at a traditional institution. Given these disparities in academic preparation, it comes as no surprise that, six years later, the likelihood of college completion at HSIs and HBCUs for these students averaged roughly 11 percentage points lower than traditional institutions.

This isn’t the end of story, however. We undertook an analysis to match Hispanic and Black students to their academic peers who enrolled at traditional institutions as previously noted. Rather, we did a true comparison by looking only at students who had similar levels of academic preparation going into college. In addition, and given that HSIs and HBCUs, are often underfunded, we also took into account the resources HSIs, HBCU, and traditional schools bring to the table. The results are compelling.

We find no difference in the likelihood of completing college for Hispanic and Black students who enroll at HSIs or HBCUs, compared to similar students who enrolled at traditional institution.

This finding is in contrast to what is often portrayed in the media and the opinions of some who point to MSIs as failing to adequately serve their student bodies. The research doesn’t release Minority Serving Institutions or any postsecondary institution from accountability to serve their students, but neither should we make unfair comparisons about graduation rates when the context in which our students are educated from K-12 to higher education can vary drastically by race and class. To that end we challenge any claim that is not fairly constructed.   Our research suggests, at least in Texas, that for some students, attending an HSI or HBCU may help students complete college and achieve economic success via things we cannot measure—e.g., social and cultural capital gained from attending an HSI or an HBCU.

HSIs and HBCUs face harsh criticisms and are often under a constant threat of scarce resources; however, they are producing results. The fact that we find no difference in the outputs after taking into account the inputs makes us wonder whether HSIs and MSIs might do a better job of serving their student sectors. In any case, the demands of the modern economy will continue to require more college graduates and the institutions most likely to produce them are likely to be institutions that serve large numbers of Black and Latino/a students.   Imagine what these institution could do if they were able to receive the funding they so desperately need and deserve.

Toby Park is an assistant professor of economics of education and education policy at Florida State University and affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Stella M. Flores is an associate professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University and affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Dr. Flores was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce this study. This work does not necessarily represent the views of the Gates Foundation.  The complete research study was recently released in Research in Higher Education. The link to the article can be found at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11162-014-9342-y

Consider the Source – Part II

Andrew Arroyo

Andrew Arroyo

An open letter to my White college-bound friends:

A few months ago, I wrote an open letter to my college-bound friends of all races/ethnicities about a potential benefit of attending an HBCU: a racially diverse faculty. You can refresh yourself by reading it here.

Now I’d like to keep the conversation going with some thoughts just for my White college-bound friends. Specifically, we will discuss four additional benefits of selecting an HBCU from a “White perspective,” and I will offer three bits of advice.

What’s in it for you: Four benefits

Let’s be honest: For White people who are used to being in the majority, becoming a voluntary “temporary minority” isn’t easy or necessarily appealing. But take it from me—a White male professor with nearly 8 years’ experience at HBCUs—you can get a lot from spending time in an HBCU. Here’s just a taste:

  1. You’ll learn that other groups of people are heterogeneous. Do all White people love country music? Then why do we paint Black people with a simplistic brush? It won’t take long on your HBCU campus to see Black people through a nuanced prism of difference rather than superficial sameness. This is important because no one wants to be prejudged. You’ll carry this benefit with you for the rest of your life too as you interact with people from all sorts of groups—religious, gender, ideological, socio-economic, and racial/ethnic.
  2. You’ll have a chance to wrestle with your White privilege. Don’t worry. No one is going to beat you over the head about it. Through intelligent conversations across campus, you’ll learn about the daily experiences of many Black people in America. Then you’ll be able to draw contrasts with your own. I won’t spill all the beans here, but I can tell you that Black people experience daily challenges you might have a hard time believing. Even going retail shopping for socks or getting behind the wheel of their own car can turn into productions because of racism. No one is taking away from our suffering and struggles, but being White… well, being White does have its advantages, even in 2014. More White people need to get this.
  3. Although you’ll be in the racial minority, you won’t be the only White person. According to a report from Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions, Blacks make up approximately 76% of the HBCU student population, and Whites about 10-13%. Also, that number is going to go up because many HBCUs are actively recruiting White students, just like you. Hey, you won’t be the first, and you definitely won’t be the last!
  4. Empirical evidence from well-designed studies (e.g., Chang, Denson, Saenz, & Misa, 2006) suggests you might see some educational gains from a racially diverse environment. If true, this outcome is a serious bonus. Get any and every competitive edge you can from college to prepare you for life thereafter.

What you need to know: Three bits of advice
If you’re serious about adding an HBCU to your short list of college options, there are some things you need to know.

  1. Just like Black people, HBCUs aren’t homogeneous either! This interview with an outgoing HBCU president helps drive this point home.
  2. Your high school guidance counselor, friends, and family probably won’t know much, if anything, about HBCUs. What they do know might be misinformation (e.g., HBCUs are dangerous or academically inferior). Be ready to explain your choice rationally, respectfully, and passionately.
  3. College is like a smart phone. It’s powerful, but you have to tap into it. Use every feature. You can run for office. You can study abroad. There’s literally nothing you can’t do at an HBCU. I know this firsthand because of my own research where I interviewed non-Black students from three HBCUs. They did it all!

Given the increasing diversification of America, immersing yourself in an HBCU environment could be one of the smartest decisions you ever make.

And the fact is you probably won’t get this diversity at a White-dominated school. Professor Marybeth Gasman and Rob Shorette (a White HBCU graduate) make this point in their article, HBCUs, Places for All to Learn. They note astutely, “a White student at [a White institution] can navigate his/her way through college without having truly interacted with issues of diversity in meaningful ways.”

Are you interested in stretching yourself beyond so many of your White peers? If so, an HBCU could be the place for you. It’s not the only place to explore diversity, but it’s a great option.

Andrew T. Arroyo is assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Norfolk State University and an affiliate at Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions

Diversifying our STEM Workforce

Ryan Kelsey

Ryan Kelsey

STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) education is all the rage. The President (in his State of the Union speeches) and the First Lady (most recently at the Working Families Summit) talk about it regularly. Reports on the importance of STEM for our country are published every month by leading think tanks, economists, and other organizations – my favorite from this month is from Jonathan Rothwell at the Brookings Institution, in which he discusses the lengthy vacancies experienced by companies trying to fill STEM jobs, due in part to the difficulty of finding qualified applicants.

One topic missing from the national spotlight is the need to diversify the STEM workforce. In order to meet the needs of our country’s global competitive edge, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reports that the U.S. needs to produce another 1 million** STEM graduates beyond current rates. To make that sizeable increase a reality, we will need a much more diverse set of STEM graduates than we currently produce. Today, less than 10% of STEM professions are filled by non-white Americans. It is worth noting that we would need to triple that percentage to match the demographic makeup of our citizenry, but even to meet the Council’s goal of 1 million will require a huge shift to expand STEM opportunities to more underrepresented students. Minority students present perhaps the largest untapped population of STEM graduates, and drawing on that reserve is a crucial strategy to reaching the United States’ full potential, since minority students on many campuses complete STEM degrees at less than half the rate of their white counterparts.

Why don’t we have more STEM graduates of color? It’s not a lack of interest – research clearly shows that about 1 in 3 students, regardless of race, has an interest in getting a degree in a STEM field, and that has been true for years.

Is it aptitude or preparedness? Hardly. And this is where Minority-Serving Institutions come in. For example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) were developed to nurture Black student success, and they have been particularly effective in STEM fields. According to National Science Foundation statistics, between 2006 and 2010, the list of 20 schools that graduated the majority of Black students in STEM fields included 10 HBCUs. Across sub-fields, HBCUs are equally or significantly stronger in awarding degrees to Black students, especially considering that HBCUs make up less than 3% of U.S. postsecondary institutions. For instance, of the bachelor degrees in mathematics and statistics awarded to Blacks in 2010, 32.5% of them were awarded by HBCUs; in the physical sciences, 36.6%. These figures suggest that STEM-related teaching and academic support practices at HBCUs are more effective than those at other schools for producing Black graduates. And HBCUs do this work much more efficiently than their Predominantly White Institution counterparts – operating with far less resources in today’s current budget climate for education and often with less selective admissions criteria.

These accomplishments need to be celebrated and shared with other types of institutions, particularly those that are experiencing growth in minority enrollment and are struggling to keep those students from diverting out of STEM (see what Penn’s Center is doing along these lines with support from the Helmsley Charitable Trust).

What are some of the chief causes for students leaving STEM?  The number one cited concern is poor teaching quality in the foundational STEM ‘gateway’ (or some might say ‘gatekeeper’) courses.  Beyond that, insufficient wrap-around supports such as advising, course sequencing, and research opportunities hinder students’ ability to see the relevance of material taught in foundational courses to real-world problems and its application in professional science and technology careers.

Many first-generation college students with an interest in STEM have a one-track mind for medical school. If they fall off that track for some reason, they quite often walk away from STEM and, in some cases, drop out of college entirely. This is a missed opportunity for many students and for the country given recent labor market trends, which show whole sectors of middle-skill STEM jobs waiting for students who pursue fields in IT (see Thai-Huy Nguyen’s post about computing), energy, and health technologies, to name a few.

So what can we do about it? The Helmsley Charitable Trust is attempting to build some of this awareness through initiatives such as AAC&U’s TIDES program with Project Kaleidoscope, involving a mix of MSIs and PWIs, which aspires to attract and retain students in Computer Science and IT through professional development for faculty on culturally inclusive teaching practices.

We are also working with large state systems on STEM undergraduate educational reforms, including an active RFP process with the California State University system, which contains 17 MSIs and has one of the largest system-wide enrollments of minority students in the country.

But this is not about any one foundation or campus. There are several foundations and federal agencies interested in supporting the excellent STEM education work of all types of institutions – and we need Minority Serving Institutions to show us all how to help more students of color get STEM credentials. Those students and their families will benefit from better employment opportunities and the United States economy will grow as a result, which improves everyone’s life.

Ryan Kelsey is a Program Officer for the Education Program at the Helmsley Charitable Trust where he primarily focuses on national work in undergraduate STEM education.

**Rothwell would say the number is even higher if you count a broader set of professions as STEM-related, see the Hidden STEM Economy for more.

Programming: A Mark of Inequality?

Thai-Huy P. Nguyen

Thai-Huy P. Nguyen

Demand for programmers in varying sectors and positions are growing, and this trend does not appear to be slowing down. In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, which cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth forsoftware developers and computer systems analysts will jump 22.8% and 24.5% between 2012 and 2022, respectively. But who will fill these positions? Considering the current conditions of our K-12 system, what type of students are expected to benefit from a technologically-driven economy? Who will be left behind?

On June 16, 2014, TIME’s writer, Tim Bajarin, published an on-line piece (“Why Basic Coding Should be a Mandatory Class in Junior High“) on the importance of incorporating basic coding in the K-12 curriculum. He argues that more and more, technology in all of its forms, has become a formidable and growing presence in our daily lives–transforming (and in some cases, improving) the way we live and shaping the future employment opportunities for our children. Bajarin suggests that if schools do not incorporate basic programming into the core curriculum, thereby providing students with a fundamental platform to build on and advance their understanding of technology, they risk graduating students with insufficient skills. In other words, learning to program and understanding its value to our lives is crucial to taking advantage of, or benefitting from, an economy that will, sooner enough, judge you on your ease and ability to operate in a work environment that is heavily managed by (constantly) new devices and software. Put simply, a child’s opportunities will be increasingly dependent on her degree of technological literacy.

As someone who spent the majority of his childhood in the Silicon ValIey, and witnessed the awesome social and economic growth of my local economy, I wholeheartedly agree with Bajarin. Students, today, should be exposed to the basics of programming early on so that they, at the very least, remain relevant and prepared to benefit from the opportunities of tomorrow. However, as a first-generation college student, raised by a single-mother, I also witnessed a quite disturbing pattern of growing inequality. Silicon Valley’s corporate elite and the minions that followed in their footsteps were primarily White and male.

According to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation, Blacks make up 6% of all computer scientists, Hispanics/Latinos at 5% and Native Americans at less than 0.1%, whereas Whites make 68% of this population. These data mirror the persistent academic underachievement of minorities in our school system. We also cannot ignore the paltry presence of women in the sciences. Although college enrollment and degree attainment have increased for women across higher education, they only make up thirty one percent of total computer scientists in the country. Given that “21% of those who took the AP computer science exam in 2011 were female and only 29 of the test takers nationwide that year were black–less than 1% of the total,” according to Yasmin Kafai and Quinn Burke, increased female and racial minority representation in the workforce in the near future seems highly unlikely. With such glaring disparities in occupational achievement by race and gender, the potential to succeed in this new economy represents a marker of grave inequality.

Ensuring that all students have the chance to benefit from a technologically-driven economy, we must push for greater technological literacy–especially in the form of basic programming–and remember that such effort must take in account those very students who are less likely to be enrolled in schools that have the infrastructure to incorporate new curriculum and hire the qualified teachers to implement it. In order to do so, we must also be wary of the demands of the for-profit sector of the economy for these professionals that will likely constrain all but the most affluent schools in the nation. But if we are to prepare all students for a fast paced world, one that is imbued with boundless and unpredictable innovation, we must consider how we are to provide them with the knowledge and tools to hold on.

For less advantageous students, exposure to basic programming early on in their education can matter a great deal more for them and their families’ future. Without it, we risk leaving behind a generation of students susceptible to an economy that will leave no room for them or their dreams.

Thai-Huy P. Nguyen is a Ph.D. candidate in higher education at PennGSE and a research assistant at Penn’s CMSIs. 

This article was jointly published with the Huffington Post on Tuesday, June 24th, 2014. 

Student Reflection: Memories from Morehouse

Desmond Diggs

Desmond Diggs

Morehouse College has been the breeding ground for some of the most pivotal African American figures in American history. When the time came for me to apply to college, I filed a single application – early decision. There was no other place in the world that I would have rather spent my undergraduate years. I remember the first time I stood at the feet of the Martin Luther King. Jr. statue in front of the chapel that is named in his honor. I looked up at the bronze figure of this giant of a man and dreamed of what my experience might look like. I never imagined, as I looked up to the man my parents saw fit to name me after, that in that very same chapel I would meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Mayor Andrew Young, or Dr. David Satcher. I couldn’t have fathomed that on those very steps I would have the opportunity to share my initiation into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated or to speak in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church on national television, or even to be mentored by Christine King Farris. Though my experience was rich, l hardly believe it was atypical. It is often said;  “you can always tell a Morehouse Man, but you can’t tell him much else.” When it comes to Mother Morehouse, I have yet to hear an argument that has made me consider that I would have been better served by another institution. However, given the present challenges of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, I wonder how many other young men and women will be able to leave their respective institutions with such fond memories.

Morehouse, like nearly all of our HBCUs, finds itself in a difficult position. Unexpected policy changes mandated by the federal government have jeopardized loan eligibility for many students and families. Such changes have disproportionately affected the “forty-six percent of students at historically black colleges [who] come from families with incomes lower than $34,000” (UNCF). In just his first year, President John Wilson C ’75 recently terminated 70 members of the faculty and closed a residence hall in an effort to address severe budget shortfalls.

Despite the present challenges, I still believe that Morehouse is the right place for the betterment of young men. Morehouse is a place where 500 young black men are bestowed their Bachelor’s degrees annually, while targeting first generation college students and those with limited access. Morehouse, like all HBCUs, holds a special place in the African-American narrative and in the greater narrative of the United States.

Morehouse men must respond to these hurdles and, in doing so, they must openly acknowledge that they cannot do it alone. There is a role for each Historically Black College and University—as well as other Minority Serving Institutions—in meeting their collective goal to educate those students who been left out. The survival of these colleges and universities and their ability to effectively shape our society will depend on new levels of coordination, cooperation, and resource-sharing that will bolster the mission of each. The Morehouse Man of tomorrow, as well as the illustrious men and women who will be the torchbearers of their respective MSIs, will no doubt find themselves at the right place, at the right time. If they are wise, they will also find a means to empower one another to new heights and recognize that what is good for the few is good for the whole.

Desmond Diggs is a graduate student in the International Education Development Program at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. He is also a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and the founder of Teach For Liberia, Incorporated, a teacher recruitment initiative aimed at recruiting talented teachers to bolster the fledgling education system in post-conflict Liberia. His research interests include, development and post-conflict economics, economics of education, and ICT as tools for development. 

The Role of Latino/as in Achieving the 2020 National Degree Attainment Goal

Andrés Castro Samayoa, Kerry Madden & Karla Silva

Andrés Castro Samayoa, Kerry Madden & Karla Silva

A recent report by Excelencia in Education reveals the critical role that Latino/as play in achieving Obama’s goal to become the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.  The reports states that, in order to achieve this goal, 5.5 million more Latino/as need to earn a degree by 2020.

Latino/a Youth
Deborah Santiago* and Emily Galdeano Calderón, the report’s authors, highlight how Latino/as account for a substantial segment of the nation’s younger population, thus requiring important consideration from institutions and policymakers invested in making positive inroads towards improving the nation’s degree attainment. For example, the report states that the median age for Latino/as is 27, whereas the median age for Whites is 42. Similarly, Latino/a youth represents 22% of the nation’s K-12 population. To be able to work towards Obama’s goal, it is important that initiatives take into account Latino/as’ performance throughout the entire educational pipeline, from K-12 through college.

Measuring Latino/a Success
In addition to Latino/as’ representation amongst U.S. youth, the report provides three metrics to track the closing equity gap in college completion: graduation rates for first-time, full-time first-years; completion per 100 full-time equivalent students; and completions relative to the population in need. Across these metrics, Latino/as lag behind between 4-9% when compared to Whites. As their report states, “none of these measures capture the entire ‘story’ of equity in degree completion,” yet, by providing different metrics, Santiago and Calderón remind us that policymakers and institutional leaders cannot rely on a sole metric to gain a definitive panorama of the complex educational landscape in this country.  Nor can increasing the critical mass of Latino/as in higher education be sufficient to reach Obama’s outlined goals.  It is clear that if the United States intends to reach this educational benchmark, an educational model mindful of Latinos/as’ specific needs must be adopted.

Questioning the role of for-profit institutions
Unsurprisingly, the report’s data reiterates what many of us know: Texas, Florida, and California are key states in educating Latino/as given their large Latino/a populations. All of the institutions conferring the most bachelor’s and/or associate’s degrees to Latino/as are found in one of these three states.  The University of Phoenix stands out as the sole for-profit institution in the midst of these three states’ public institutions’ accomplishments.  Conferring over 2,500 Bachelor’s and over 2,400 Associates to Hispanics, the University of Phoenix is one of the Top 5 institutions conferring degrees to Hispanics. Surprisingly, these numbers represent less than 10% of the total degrees conferred by the University of Phoenix. Although this institution’s conferral of degrees makes a contribution to the nation’s aspiration to increase the proportion of college graduates, one must wonder whether institutions like the University of Phoenix are doing a disservice to its students given that
over a quarter of its graduates default less than three years after they begin repaying their loans. 

Excelencia in Education’s report reiterates the importance of race-sensitive approaches to ensuring the nation’s success in achieving Obama’s 2020 goals. At the same time, their data invites us to consider whether obtaining a degree necessarily means that these students are equipped for success. If a for-profit institution that disproportionately contribute to the nation’s student debt becomes one of the primary providers of degrees to Hispanics, it is evidence that we have a long road ahead before achieving sustainable financial and social prosperity for Latino/a graduates. Merely providing access to college for Latino/a students is not enough:  students need the resources and support to both complete their degrees and aspire to a life that is unhindered by debilitating debt after graduation. Ensuring that these concerns are also part of the conversation is critical if we aim to fully achieve Obama’s 2020 goal.

*Deborah Santiago is a member of the Penn Center’s For Minority Serving Institutions’ Advisory Board.

Andrés Castro Samayoa is a research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and Ph.D. student in higher education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. Kerry Madden received her Master’s Degree in higher education from Penn’s Graduate School of Education in Spring 2014. Karla Silva received her Master’s Degree in higher education from Penn’s Graduate School of Education in Spring 2014 and was also a research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.