Persisting to Graduation: Experiences of Degree-Seeking, First-Generation, African-American Males at a Community College

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Administration


Advisor: Michele Welkener


Although African-American males are enrolling in community colleges, their graduation rates are alarmingly low and there is a dearth of research about why this is the case. "Despite the high number of African American students enrolled in two-year institutions," argued Bush and Bush (2010), "there is a pronounced scarcity of educational literature and research about the community college system in general and African American students specifically" (p. 40). Harris and Wood (2013) also gave credence to the fact that it was not until after 2010 that scholars began researching men of color at community colleges. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to document and better understand the college-going experience of degree-seeking, first-generation, African-American males at an urban community college in the Midwest so that future African-American male students can be better supported in their quest for a higher education. Harper (2014) asked researchers to stop mischaracterizing young men of color and offer more than a one-sided narrative. This study aims to achieve that and also includes topics overlooked in the research: distinctive interventions for community colleges, personal reasons students drop out, the challenge of balancing academic and social pressures, and the need for qualitative research regarding the experiences of African-American males. In this study, major findings from 15 semi-structured interviews, demographic questionnaires, and support network diagrams are examined through an anti-deficit framing lens. Several themes emerged from the analysis process. Four of the major themes describe what contributes to associate degree completion for African-American males: importance of family and mentors, significance of believing in success, impact of community support, and influence of faculty connections. Four of the major themes are categorized as challenges to degree completion for African-American males. These are: complexities of being a first generation student, questioning the value of higher education, difficulties of college, and facing the reality of racism. Themes that emerged from this research indicate the ways faculty, student services professionals, and fellow students can best support African-American male students. This study also suggests that if community colleges truly want to see an increase in the number of African-American males graduating, there will need to be a college-wide strategy and implementation behind any social mobility objectives-not just words but action is needed. One participant offered a charge to readers that should persist beyond this dissertation regarding how instructors, staff, and students can best support African-American males at a community college, Just educate [yourself] about our experiences. Like you're doing. Talk to us, learn, see what they went through, see the challenges they went through to get where they are now, and what possible challenges they might face in the future.


Educational Leadership, African-American Males, Community College, Degree-Seeking, First-Generation, Graduation

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