Educational attainment: the impact of the Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program on African American males in higher education

Trends in higher education have pointed out a huge gap in persistence and degree attainment at universities among certain ethnic groups. Laws and bills have been passed to ensure people of color have the opportunity to access higher education; however, the focus has shifted from getting students from just being enrolled in a university to helping them successfully persist to graduation. Today, African American males continue to fall behind White counterparts in relation to college participation, retention, persistence, and degree completion (Noguera, 2003; Polite & Davis, 1999). Statement of the Problem For California State University, Sacramento to increase its current retention and graduation rates regarding the African American male student population, the university must have a retention program for students that provides a holistic, student-centered approach through mentorship, academic advising, and student-to-faculty interactions reflecting the diverse student population; this will establish a sense of belonging and enhance a student’s learning and graduation persistence. In the fall of 2015, the university enrolled 3,820 first time freshmen students. Prior to this enrollment, less than 6% of the African American student population persisted to degree completion from the years 2011-2015 (California State University, Sacramento, 2015). If California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State) does not proactively identify new strategies for retention of African American males through innovative programming and support services, there is strong potential for the university to not retain current and or potential students due to lack of student engagement. This study examines African American males’ educational persistence by evaluating the impact of the Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program at Sacramento State. This study addressed the following questions: 1. What challenges do African American males face in higher education regarding graduation persistence? 2. How does the Cooper-Woodson College program promote persistence and graduation for African American males? 3. How does the Cooper-Woodson College program impact student development through service learning? Methodology This qualitative research sought to understand the impact of the Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program on African American males and to analyze factors influencing these students’ persistence to degree completion. Specifically, respondents were 10 African American male students who successfully completed the Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program. Students were asked to share the obstacles they faced in higher education, to describe how the Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program helped them persist, and to describe their service learning experiences. Conclusions and Recommendations The study concluded that while African American males encounter different obstacles in navigating the educational pipeline, with the support of professors and staff, an inclusive and culturally diverse environment, and community to motivate and or encourage academic success is an obtainable goal. The results of this study can be used by educators and policymakers to develop different initiatives to support, promote, and encourage the educational success of all students of color, particularly African American males.