ERIC Identifier: ED464524
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Spradley, Patricia
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.
Strategies for Educating the Adult Black Male in College. ERIC
Administrators, scholars, faculty, and students continue to actively discuss
the socioeconomic and educational plight of African American males and their
declining enrollment and retention in and graduation from higher education. The
majority of research has focused on traditional-age students and increasing
their success. For example, evidence suggests that the decision of
traditional-age African American males to drop out of college may be caused by
several factors, including lack of financial aid, socio-cultural challenges, and
institutional incompatibility (Wilson, 1996). Initial recommendations to address
the plight of traditional-age African American male college students include
increased attention to mentoring, as mentors have the potential of assisting
African American males in negotiating the enormous intricacies of the higher
education pipeline (Wilson, 2000).
One promising trend is the returning of adult males. The number of black
males 25 years old and over enrolled in college has increased from 143,000 in
1990 to 267,000 in 1995 to 335,000 in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). The adult
black male's increased participation in higher education over the last decade
has challenged post-secondary institutions to adapt to changing clientele and
design their programs to address the special needs of the adult learner (NCES,
1996; Perna, 1997). For instance, it has become necessary to provide accessible
options for academic pursuit that respond to the adult males' expectations,
needs, and interests. There are three main strategies that help to support this
population: 1) peer support in classes as an incentive for their learning; 2)
faculty-student relationships; and 3) extra-curricular activities (Bean &
Metzner, 1985). This ERIC Digest will review these three key strategies,
providing administrators with needed information to guide the design of programs
and activities to help support this population.
According to the work of researchers
Merriam and Caffarella (1991), the social environment of the classroom is a
major element in the productive development of adults involved in formal
education. Because adults spend less time on college campuses, peer support in
the classroom is a focal point for both social integration and study group
interests. A study conducted by Spradley (1996) with adult African American male
graduates from an urban commuter baccalaureate institution revealed the
importance of peer support on campus through study groups and classroom
interactions as a means of facilitating academic success. The adult black males'
study group involvement included working together, sharing notes, discussing
study techniques, and arriving at a collective solution to the problems they
faced. Study groups were forums for peer socialization that provided supportive
friendships, positive social interactions, and friendly intellectual competition
with fellow students. Adult African American male involvement in study groups
provided them with the unique opportunity to talk with other students with
similar seriousness about their studies. Consequently, discourse as an aspect of
social and emotional peer support has been documented (Quinnan, 1997) as a way
of enhancing learning through discussion, exploration and positive interactions
Faculty members play the role of
mediating the ways in which people approach their learning. That is, the
instructor is usually responsible for planning, implementing, and evaluating the
learning that takes place (Merriam & Caffarella, 1991). In order to reverse
the downward enrollment and graduation trends of the black male in the academy,
faculty members are challenged to accommodate the concerns of adult black males.
There is a need for adult African American males to believe that faculty are
evaluating them fairly, are working on their behalf, and are considerate of
their role as student, parent, and employee (Vella, 1994). As is the case with
most adult learners, when older black male learners are clear about their role
in the college classroom, the tasks involved in fulfilling that role, and the
functional boundaries, they can move forward with their learning (Kasworm,
1997). Well-designed learning tasks that encourage open dialogue are important
for adult learning to occur. A complete and mutual understanding on the part of
each participant in the dialogue is necessary so that the right of the other to
be an equal partner in the discussion authenticates the teacher-student
interaction (Vella, 1994). Discussions that expand their understanding of the
content and assist them in placing information within a relevant context in
their own lives increases the adult males' self-motivation for the application
of new learning.
Adults often enroll in college to address work or life transitions and
faculty members are valued as facilitators of learning with professional
expertise and possible connections to the world of work (Vella, 1994).
Student-teacher relationship strains occur when the former balances are
neglected and faculty members ask intimidating questions and provide critical
evaluation of the black males' experiences and learning. Under such intense
circumstances, it is possible that faculty members will be viewed as instigators
of failure rather than facilitators of learning, especially if faculty seem
uncomfortable and avoid the adult learner outside of class. A balance between
the teacher-student learning relationship and role clarification is a constant
one that requires disciplined thoughtfulness and includes the adult learners'
cache of personal knowledge and experiences that complements and enriches
subject matter presented in class discussions (Kasworm, 1997). Faculty members
who are accessible, concerned with students, and are committed to quality
instruction in the classroom environment play a significant role in the
students' learning and persistence (Spradley, 1996). Students' relationship with
faculty and other students as well as class related learning are powerful
influences on their college experiences and intentions to remain in the
Administrators at colleges
where a critical mass of African American males are enrolled express concern
about the decisions of young black males to be inactive in campus life (Turner,
2000). It is hypothesized that young black males do not see the value or the
importance of participating in extra-curricular activities. However, high school
records reveal many of these young black males to have been actively involved in
extra-curricular activities while in secondary school. Some were even admitted
to higher education institutions because of their active involvement in
extra-curricular activities (Turner, 2000). Perhaps the disconnect in
extra-curricular involvement on campus is mediated by the students' feelings of
academic ineptitude and their lack of critical appreciation of university life
as being instrumental to socio-cultural development, as well as professional
satisfaction (Vella, 1994). Some of the most recent data indicate that the most
successful traditional-age black male students tend to have a balance between
the academic and social environments of college life, and are skillful at
negotiating the educational pipeline (Hrabowski, et. al. 1998).
But for adults, the types of extra-curricular activities tend to be different
from traditional age students. For the adult learner, involvement in campus life
offers another type of challenge. As an example, involvement in campus life
implies juggling such competing challenges as parenting and maintaining a
full-time work schedule, in addition to the equally time- and energy-consuming
academic schedule (Vella, 1994). This makes participation in extra-curricular
activities on campus difficult, if not impossible. Nonetheless, many adult
learners are engaged as citizens and leaders in their communities.
The context in which adults participate with others to frame and develop
communities represents the application of learning through experience. Kasworm
(1997) labeled the learning as life-world knowledge structures. These
out-of-class contexts for learning act as alternative avenues for conventional
campus involvement (i.e., social clubs, campus activities, etc.) in
extra-curricular activities. Spradley's (1996) research efforts on adult African
American male persistence offered evidence on the importance of students'
involvement in extra- curricular activities and the nature of their interactions
with the community. According to study participants, relationships developed
with community-based organizations advanced their understanding of the
connection between off-campus extra-curricular activities that positively
influenced their lives and application of learning to community life. For
example, some males were volunteer mentors for the Boys Club, tutors at the
YMCA, and organizers of church- affiliated Male Rites of Passage programs. This
socially responsible spirit of altruism is not unusual. Still others noted
substantial improvement in grades as a result of application of learning to
community involvement. According to Cobb (1995), the give back to my community
thinking is critical to accounting for learning as it occurs in a social and
cultural context by bringing one perspective or the other to the fore as the
While there are no quick solutions to the dilemma
of the declining academic achievement of black males, there is hope for etching
consciousness into the minds of academy members for effectively educating adult
learners, among them African American males. Several interventions can help to
increase adult African American male success. Peer interactions provide needed
social integration into the academic experience. Facilitative learning
environments with faculty who nurture accumulated learning, contribute to
knowledge acquisition, and encourage the application of learning to improve
social surroundings are also critical to success. Being aware of the distinctive
extra-curricular experiences that enrich learning and provide application
opportunities is important for faculty. Lastly, providing insightful information
to educators on best practices in adult learning, including the obstacles adults
encounter on numerous levels (i.e., interpersonal, personal, organizational) is
a key step toward inclusive educational transformation.
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