• unlimited access with print and download
    $ 37 00
  • read full document, no print or download, expires after 72 hours
    $ 4 99
More info
Unlimited access including download and printing, plus availability for reading and annotating in your in your Udini library.
  • Access to this article in your Udini library for 72 hours from purchase.
  • The article will not be available for download or print.
  • Upgrade to the full version of this document at a reduced price.
  • Your trial access payment is credited when purchasing the full version.
Buy
Continue searching

Student engagement experiences of African American males at a California community college

Dissertation
Author: Dyrell W. Foster
Abstract:
This dissertation shows the results of an investigation into the engagement experiences of African American males in a California Community College. In an effort to illuminate such experiences, a phenomenological investigation into the experiences of African American male students in engaging in educationally purposeful activities on a community college campus was conducted, with extensive interviews of 12 participants. Research questions asked about the students' experiences regarding their use of time on campus outside of class, faculty interaction, peer interaction, campus involvement and utilization of institutional resources--constructs identified from previous research in Student Engagement theory. Results of the investigation showed consistency of experience in seven distinct areas. First, having a clear educational goal and an identified path in which to achieve it allows students to stay focused and helps to relieve stress and anxiety. Second, students' notion of independence determines whether or not they take the initiative to seek assistance on campus. Third, some students welcome peer interactions, while others perceive these interactions as being distractions, avoiding them altogether. Fourth, students are engaged by faculty who genuinely care and have a passion for teaching. Fifth, students prefer faculty who teach to accommodate various learning styles. Sixth, time and financial constraints are real barriers to student engagement; and seventh, a welcoming, open campus environment promotes greater student satisfaction and enhances student engagement. These results suggest that community colleges have a responsibility to enhance the student engagement experiences of African American males to increase their academic success. Specific suggestions to achieve this goal include: Ensure that students have an educational goal and a clear path in which to achieve it, structure peer groups that are academically focused, ensure students understand seeking assistance is normal and expected, develop a culture of success for African American males, and do the necessary work to understand and validate students' experiences.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgements .........................................................................................................ii

List of Tables..................................................................................................................vi

Abstract ......................................................................................................................vii

Chapter One: Overview of the Study................................................................................1 Introduction..............................................................................................................1 Statement of the Problem.........................................................................................5 Background of the Problem.....................................................................................9 Purpose of Study....................................................................................................12 Research Questions................................................................................................12 Significance of the Study.......................................................................................13 Definitions of Related Concepts............................................................................15 Assumptions...........................................................................................................15 Dissertation Organization......................................................................................18

Chapter Two: Review of the Literature..........................................................................20 Introduction............................................................................................................20 Community College Students................................................................................20 Factors that Impact the Academic Success of African American Males...............24 Identity Development and Self-Perception......................................................27 Coping Strategies.............................................................................................29 Institutional Environment and Campus Climate..............................................31 Academic and Social Connections...................................................................38 Student Engagement........................................................................................39 Theory of Student Engagement.............................................................................41 Figure 1: Student Engagement.........................................................................43 Academic Challenge........................................................................................44 Student-Faculty Interactions............................................................................46 Active and Collaborative Learning..................................................................50 Supportive Educational Environments............................................................51 Critiques of Student Engagement Theory..............................................................54 Conclusion.............................................................................................................62

Chapter Three: Research Methods..................................................................................64 Introduction............................................................................................................64 Constructivist Paradigm.........................................................................................64 Phenomenological Approach.................................................................................67 Epoche....................................................................................................................69

iv

Research Site..........................................................................................................72 Participants.............................................................................................................76 Data Collection......................................................................................................78 Data Analysis.........................................................................................................80 Limitations of the Study.........................................................................................83 Ethical Considerations...........................................................................................85 Trustworthiness......................................................................................................86 Conclusion.............................................................................................................88

Chapter Four: Findings...................................................................................................90 Introduction............................................................................................................90 Theme 1: Having a clear educational goal and an identified path in ..............92 in which to achieve it allows students to stay focused and helps to relieve stress and anxiety Theme 2: Students' notion of independence determines whether or...............97 or not they take the initiative to seek assistance on campus Theme 3: Some students welcome peer interactions, while others...............102 perceive these interactions as being distractions, avoiding them altogther Theme 4: Students are engaged by faculty who genuinely care and.............108 have a passion for teaching Theme 5: Students prefer faculty who teach to accommodate various.........115 learning styles Theme 6: Time and financial constraints are real barriers to student............117 engagement Theme 7: A wecloming, open campus environment promotes greater.........126 student satisfaction and enhances student engagement

Chapter Five: Discussion and Implications..................................................................135 Introduction..........................................................................................................135 Findings Compared to Research Questions.........................................................135 Findings in Relation to Literature on African American Males..........................138 Current Study's Basis in Student Engagement Literature....................................143 Implications for Community Colleges.................................................................149 Implication 1: Ensure that students have an educational plan and a .............150 clear path in which to achieve it Implication 2: Structure peer groups that are academically focused.............154 Implication 3: Ensure that students understand that seeking assistance........155 is normal and expected Implication 4: Develop a culture of success for African American males ...158 Implication 5: Do the necessary work to understand and validate................159 students' experiences

v

Pulling it all Together: Findings and Implications..............................................161 Future Research...................................................................................................165

Conclusion ..................................................................................................................167

References ..................................................................................................................169

Appendices ..................................................................................................................180 Appendix A: Participant Profile Form.................................................................180 Appendix B: Sample Focus Group Interview Protocol.......................................182 Appendix C: Sample Individual Interview Protocol............................................184 Appendix D: Sample Email Solicitation..............................................................186 Appendix E: Sample Flyer Solicitation...............................................................188 Appendix F: Informed Consent Form..................................................................190

vi

List of Tables

Table 1: 2006-2007 Mt. SAC Ethnic Profile of Credit Enrollment..............................74

Table 2: Participant Profiles..........................................................................................89

Table 3: Summary of Results......................................................................................134

vii

Abstract

This dissertation shows the results of an investigation into the engagement experiences of African American males in a California Community College. In an effort to illuminate such experiences, a phenomenological investigation into the experiences of African American male students in engaging in educationally purposeful activities on a community college campus was conducted, with extensive interviews of 12 participants. Research questions asked about the students’ experiences regarding their use of time on campus outside of class, faculty interaction, peer interaction, campus involvement and utilization of institutional resources - constructs identified from previous research in Student Engagement theory. Results of the investigation showed consistency of experience in seven distinct areas. First, having a clear educational goal and an identified path in which to achieve it allows students to stay focused and helps to relieve stress and anxiety. Second, students’ notion of independence determines whether or not they take the initiative to seek assistance on campus. Third, some students welcome peer interactions, while others perceive these interactions as being distractions, avoiding them altogether. Fourth, students are engaged by faculty who genuinely care and have a passion for teaching. Fifth, students prefer faculty who teach to accommodate various learning styles. Sixth, time and financial constraints are real barriers to student engagement; and seventh, a welcoming, open campus environment promotes greater student satisfaction and enhances student engagement.

viii

These results suggest that community colleges have a responsibility to enhance the student engagement experiences of African American males to increase their academic success. Specific suggestions to achieve this goal include: Ensure that students have an educational goal and a clear path in which to achieve it, structure peer groups that are academically focused, ensure students understand seeking assistance is normal and expected, develop a culture of success for African American males, and do the necessary work to understand and validate students’ experiences.

1

CHAPTER ONE: OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY

Introduction

Higher education is an important pathway to social and economic mobility. Earning a college degree significantly increases earnings and income. In California, an associate degree increases income, on average, by 47 percent compared to a high school level education; a bachelor’s degree by 108 percent and a graduate degree by 189 percent (California Postsecondary Education Commission, 2007). Degree attainment is a powerful mechanism to assist historically marginalized groups to achieve social mobility and economic success. The recent review of the social and economic status of African Americans in California demonstrates that African Americans fare significantly worse than Whites and Asians on indicators related to economics, housing, health, education, criminal justice, and civic engagement (California Legislative Black Caucus, 2006). African Americans maintain the lowest household median income, and the highest unemployment and poverty rates of all ethnic groups in California (California Legislative Black Caucus, 2006). Furthermore, African American students have the lowest average SAT scores and are most likely to drop out of high school than any other ethnic group in California (California Legislative Black Caucus, 2006). The continued inequality and disparity in economic and social status of African Americans in California, and nationally, are of great concern and demand immediate attention.

2

The future for African American males is particularly disturbing when one considers the low educational attainment and the lack of social stability of this group in our country. African American males in the K-12 system lead all other groups of students in suspensions, expulsions, behavioral problems and referrals to special cases for slow learners (White & Cones, 1999). In addition, African American adolescent males have a 41 percent homicide rate in California, compared to 14 percent, 5 percent, and 4 percent for Latino, Asian, and White males, respectively (California Legislative Black Caucus, 2006). Further, there are more African American men in prison than in college. In 2004, African American males made up 3 percent of the total population in California, 29 percent of the prison population, and only 1 percent of the undergraduate student population in higher education (California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, 2005). Among those enrolled in higher education, African American males remain significantly underrepresented; they are the least likely group to be enrolled in colleges or universities and least likely than African American females to earn a college degree (Bush, 2004; Cuyjet, 1997; Hoffman, Llagas & Snyder, 2003). Community colleges play a significant role in sustaining and increasing the educational attainment of the American population, particularly for African Americans. The role of California community colleges is most significant to African American higher education in the United States. One of every 14 African Americans who are enrolled in higher education attends a California community college; moreover, one of every 7 African American community college students in the country is enrolled in California

3

(Anomymous, 2007). More specifically, of the 1.2 percent of all African American males enrolled in public, postsecondary institutions in California, 82 percent are enrolled in the California Community College system (Community College League of California, 2004). Clearly, a large proportion of African American males in California use community colleges as their primary means to seek access to higher education and to pursue career opportunities by earning a degree, transferring to a four-year institution, and eventually entering the work force to earn a higher salary; therefore, the educational success of African American males in community colleges is critical to enhancing their socio-economic status, not only in California, but across the country. Disturbingly, African Americans, particularly men, are being left behind, severely lacking educational attainment, which inhibits social mobility and economic achievement. Although this is not a recent phenomenon, it has continued to be a persistent problem that has not yet been successfully resolved. Recent studies demonstrate that African Americans earn the fewest degrees and transfer at lower rates to four-year institutions than any other major ethnic group in the California community college system (Bush, 2004; Wassmer, Moore, & Shulock, 2003). Whites earn six times as many associate’s degrees compared with African Americans, Latinos earn nearly three times as many, and Asians and Filipinos earn twice as many (Allen, Bonous-Hammarth, & Teranishi, 2002). This gap in educational access and attainment for African Americans has a profound impact on the group’s opportunity to succeed in society.

4

A recent report, titled “Rules of the Game” from the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy finds that the vast majority of African American students, who enter community college in California seeking a degree, are not completing their course of study (Shulock & Moore, 2007). More specifically, this study found only 15% of African American students, compared to 18% of Latino, 27% of White, and 33% of Asian students, earned a certificate or degree, transferred to a four-year university, or achieved some combination of those outcomes within six years of enrolling in a California Community College (Shulock & Moore, 2007). A similar study found that African American men in comparison to other ethnic and gender sub-groups are disproportionately underachieving in all segments of academic outcomes in California community colleges (Bush, 2004). The study further asserted that African American men throughout California’s community college system are the lowest performing subgroup when one considers: percentage of degrees earned, persistence rates, and average cumulative grade point average (Bush, 2004). Although community colleges are open access institutions, provide quality, affordable education, and serve as a catalyst for African American males who might not otherwise pursue a college education; community colleges appear to be failing African American males. These findings suggest that California community colleges need to develop interventions that would appropriately reduce the racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in student success, persistence and achievement. In considering the large proportion of African American males who enroll in California community colleges, their

5

success is of the utmost importance. To respond effectively to these challenges, community colleges need to better understand the experiences of African American males in order to develop more effective strategies to enhance their educational outcomes and academic success. Statement of Problem A broad body of research and theoretical perspectives indicate that positive educational outcomes are associated with student engagement (Astin, 1985; Pace, 1980; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1993). The notion of student engagement has received considerable attention in recent years and has been found to be an important indicator of student success (Hu & Kuh, 2002; Kuh, 2001; Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges, & Hayek, 2006; Kuh, Vasper & Pace, 1997). Although some students come to college better prepared academically than others, student engagement literature suggests that what students do while in college, such as the activities in which they engage and the company they keep, are important factors in their persistence and success (Kuh et al., 2006). Numerous studies assert that students who take part in educationally effective activities within the institution have positive educational outcomes (Astin, 1985; Hu & Kuh, 2002; Kuh, 2001; Kuh et al., 1997; Pascarella, 1980). Furthermore, research shows that the time and energy that students, at any institution, devote to educationally purposeful activities is the greatest predictor of their cognitive and personal development (Astin, 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991; Pace, 1980). Also important to achieving positive student learning outcomes are institutional environments that students perceive

6

as inclusive and affirming (Kuh, 2001; Kuh, Schuh, Whitt, & Associates, 2005; Pascarella, 2001). These factors and conditions are also positively related to student satisfaction and achievement on a variety of dimensions (Astin, 1984, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991); therefore, educationally effective colleges are those that add value to the student experience, by directing students’ efforts and energy toward appropriate tasks, activities, and behaviors and engages them in these activities at high levels (Bridges, Cambridge, Kuh & Leegwater, 2005). Therefore, it can be assumed that enhancing student engagement may be an effective strategy for increasing the persistence, retention and academic achievement of all students in higher education, including African American males (Kuh et al., 2006). Despite the numerous studies that support the relationship between student engagement and educational outcomes, it should be noted that most of the research has been conducted on general student populations in large, four-year institutions. Numerous scholars assert that higher education research overwhelmingly under represents empirical work conducted using community college students (Cofers & Somers, 2000; Pascarella, 1997; Townsend, Donaldson, & Wilson, 2004), and this gap is particularly salient in the student engagement literature (Bridges et al., 2005; Wortman & Napoli, 1996). Therefore, limited research exists which specifically examines student engagement experiences in community college settings, and very few seek to understand the engagement experiences of African American males (Greene, 2005; Harvey-Smith, 2002).

7

Another problematic issue is that our understanding of student engagement practices in higher education is based primarily upon quantitative data collected from student responses to various survey instruments such as the Community College Student Report (CCSR). Although the CCSR survey is used as a benchmarking instrument, diagnostic tool, and monitoring device to provide valuable information regarding institutional practices and student characteristics that are correlated with student learning and student retention in community colleges, current data fails to provide in-depth qualitative information which would allow institutions to better understand student engagement experiences. Survey instruments do not tell us why students responded the way they did not do, nor do these surveys provide a context in which they responded or their thoughts and behaviors that influence their responses (Creswell, 2007). Therefore, institutions cannot solely rely on quantitative data to understand students’ experiences in community colleges because the students’ experiences are too complex; there are too many factors and too many constraints that impact their success. This study fills a gap in the literature by describing and understanding the student engagement experiences of African American males in community colleges. Furthermore, Dowd and Korn (2006) assert that “assessment instruments commonly used in community colleges today may narrow perspectives on the institutional scope of responsibility because colleges will only be looking at part of the picture…colleges cannot see problems that are not measured” (p. 28). Some scholars have critiqued student engagement surveys for being culturally insensitive and for failing

8

to take into account the impact of student racial demographics, issues of power and cultural norms (Dowd & Korn, 2006; Tanaka, 2002; Tierney, 1992). These perspectives suggest that although quantitative surveys are effective for gathering useful data for large student populations, they fail to provide a complete picture, leaving some important issues unexplored. Student interactions with peers and faculty are difficult to capture with current survey instruments, and these instruments may not be sensitive to issues such as gender differences, ethnicity, and individual differences (Creswell, 2007). Moreover, existing measures may not be well suited to fully capture the complex cultural concepts involved in understanding student engagement. Therefore, qualitative research is needed to understand student interactions and to examine how and to what extent characteristics such as gender and ethnicity impacts students’ engagement experiences on community college campuses (Creswell, 2007). Given that student engagement activities are likely to enhance academic achievement and persistence, community college administrators need to understand how African American male students’ learning is being impacted by their engagement experiences on campus and to what extent. The better we understand the issues involved with how African American male community college students engage within the college environment, the better we are able to develop effective strategies to facilitate their success and promote educational equity in community colleges, and in higher education. Therefore a qualitative approach was used to examine student engagement from the lens

9

of African American males and to understand their experiences in engaging in educational activities on a community college campus. Background of Problem Numerous studies have examined the notion of student engagement and have found that students who are engaged in formal and informal educational activities enhance their educational outcomes, academic achievement, and college satisfaction (Astin, 1985; Hu & Kuh, 2002; Kuh, 2001; Kuh et al., 1997; Kuh, et al., 2006; Pascarella, 1980). Furthermore, Hu and Kuh (2002) assert that student engagement is the most important determinant of student learning and development for college students (as cited by Greene, 2005). On the contrary, students who fail to form sufficient formal and informal social connections to others on campus are found to be significantly more likely to leave the institution (Tinto, 1987). Clearly, student engagement is a valuable indicator for assessing the quality of colleges’ educational practices and identifying ways they can produce more successful outcomes to help students to attain their educational goals. However, as discussed in the previous section, an in-depth understanding of students’ behaviors in engaging with the campus environment is lacking and is not captured through current, quantitative measures, particularly in community college settings. A recent review of community college research (McClenney & Marti, 2006) found that student engagement is one of the more poorly studied areas within the community college literature; therefore, few studies have explored the impact of student engagement on community college students, and more specifically the engagement

10

experiences of African American males (McClenney & Marti, 2006). Through an extensive review of literature, two studies (Bush, 2004; Greene, 2005) were found that examine the relationship between engagement and educational outcomes for African American males at community colleges. Both studies confirm previous research by demonstrating a broad, positive relationship between student engagement factors and enhanced academic outcomes for African American males at community colleges. However, these findings focus mainly on the type and frequency of engagement activities that tend to affect student outcomes and achievement; they fail to completely understand the quality and nature of these engagement activities and how it may impact the educational outcomes for African American male community college students. Therefore, the experiences that may impact students’ level and type of engagement in educational activities in community colleges are not completely understood. Furthermore, prevalent among the few studies that examine the engagement of African American males in higher education are findings that suggest that African American males are most likely to be disengaged from educational activities on college campuses when compared to similar peer groups; and these non-engaging student behaviors are found to have a negative impact on student success, achievement, and persistence (Bonner & Bailey, 2006; Flowers, 2006; Harper, Carini, Bridges & Hayek, 2004). More specifically, Bush (2004) examined the effects of community college institutional factors on the academic achievement of African American males and their perceptions of their college experience. The study revealed that African American men

11

have greater amounts of dissatisfaction and are least likely to engage in purposefully educational activities when compared to all other subgroups in California community colleges (Bush, 2004). In addition, the study revealed that African American men are less likely to meet with their instructors and less likely to be involved in extracurricular activities. In fact, compared to other subgroups Bush found that African American men were: more likely to express boredom in class, less likely to participate in campus activities, and had not encountered peers in college that could help them adjust to college life. In this study, African American males were found not to be academically and socially engaged in campus life in a community college setting. Therefore, current research begs the question, what are effective ways in which community colleges can foster the engagement of African American male students in educationally purposeful activities. This dissertation study sought to understand African American males’ experiences in engaging in educational activities in community colleges by exploring the context and nature of their college experiences. Given that African American males are more likely to enroll in community colleges than in any other postsecondary institution, community college administrators must fully understand the experiences of African American males to develop more effective strategies to engage them in purposeful activities on their campuses, which enhance their likelihood of successfully attaining their academic and professional goals and assist in closing the educational and socio-economic gaps that exist in our society.

12

Purpose of the Study The purpose of this phenomenological investigation was to examine and attempt to understand the formal and informal engagement experiences of African American male community college students at Mt. San Antonio College. Additionally, this study sought to understand the institutional factors that affect student engagement. Consequently, very little is known about how perceptions, stereotypes, and the culture of African American males directly shape their engagement experiences in community colleges. It can be assumed that the experiences of African American males are unique and may have an effect on their level and type of engagement. However, this relationship and the impact have not been explored and therefore, are not clear. This investigation provides an in- depth understanding of the student engagement experiences of African American males on a community college campus, with the purpose of improving their academic achievement and persistence. Improving the success of African American males in community colleges increases their participation in higher education, which may lead to an increase in their transfer rates, degree attainment, and employment at significantly higher salaries; thus, resulting in helping to close the socio-economic and educational gaps prevalent in California and across the nation. Research Questions This qualitative research study reveals a deeper understanding of the experiences of African American male students in engaging in educationally purposeful activities on a community college campus. Specifically, this study explored the students’ experiences

13

regarding their use of time on campus outside of class, faculty interaction, peer interaction, and utilization of institutional resources and services. Although the following research questions guided the inquiry of this study, they did not bound it given the nature of qualitative research which allowed for flexibility of the research design as the research progressed (Creswell, 2007). The following research questions were used to inform and direct this study: What are the formal and informal engagement experiences of African American male community college students at Mt. San Antonio College? What are the reasons (underlying factors) for their type and level of engagement? In what ways, if any, does the institution affect the engagement experiences of African American males? Significance of Study A plethora of research has examined student retention and persistence in higher education, and clearly, student engagement seems to play a role in the retention, persistence and success of college students, including African American males. However, student engagement has not been adequately explored in community college settings and less with specific, diverse student subgroup populations. In addition, our knowledge of student engagement practices in higher education is based primarily upon quantitative data collected from various survey instruments, which fails to provide an in- depth understanding of the quality and nature of students’ engagement experiences.

14

Furthermore, some scholars have critiqued the use of these engagement surveys for failing to consider important factors that may affect student engagement, such as culture, power, gender, and ethnicity (Tanaka, 2002; Dowd & Korn, 2006). This qualitative study contributes to existing literature by exploring the student engagement experiences of African American males on a community college campus. Although many current retention strategies encourage institutions to enhance student engagement, it is evident that African American males may not be engaged in educationally purposeful activities within community colleges. In an effort to enhance the retention and persistence of African American males, their experiences need to be closely examined. It is important to first understand specific students’ experiences, before effective strategies to retain, support and assist them can be developed. A clear understanding of their engagement experiences in interacting with faculty, peers, and use of support services provides further insight into the notion of student engagement, therefore adding to the existing literature on the engagement experiences of African American males. Through one-on-one interviews of African American males at a community college in southern California, this investigation provides insightful information for community college administrators, faculty and staff to allow them to better understand students’ experiences and the factors that hinder and support their engagement on campus. I hope that this study allows community college administrators to develop more effective strategies to engage African American males on their campuses, which may

15

increase their educational outcomes, persistence and success; thus, ultimately lead to better socio-economic outcomes for African American males in California, and in our nation. Definitions of Related Concepts Educationally Purposeful Activities: includes, but is not limited to the amount of time studying, interaction with faculty members and peers related to substantive topics, involvement in co-curricular activities, and use of institutional resources, such as library, tutoring, counseling, and other student support services Faculty Interaction: the frequency and type of informal or formal contact students have with their professors Peer Interaction: the type and quality of interaction a student has with his peer group Persistence: occurs when students who were enrolled in courses from one term continue their education at the same institution to the next term Student Engagement: quality of effort students themselves devote to educationally purposeful activities that contribute directly to desired outcomes (Hu & Kuh, 2002). Assumptions I understand that I brought values to this process and I recognize that these values that may have influenced my inquiry (Guba & Lincoln, 1988 as cited in Creswell, 2007); therefore, I want to reflect on my axiological assumptions that were used to shape this

16

study (Creswell, 2007). One assumption that I had prior to conducting research was that racism and discrimination plays a major role in higher education, particularly for African American males; thus, would play a significant role in how African American males are treated and perceived, which would directly impact the campus climate and ultimately, their experiences on college campuses. Although this assumption held true, students were able to utilize effective coping mechanisms to overcome negative perceptions. Therefore, my assumption that African American males have a unique experience as they attempt to navigate, cope with and respond to the prejudice and racial discrimination on college campuses held true; and these experiences did have a significant influence on the level and type of engagement activities that these African American males experienced in this particular community college environment. Another assumption that I had also applied to the majority of community college students, the experience of African American males were shaped and influenced by many factors, such as: 1) being low-income; 2) being a first generation college student; 3) being academically under-prepared; 4) having family and work responsibilities; and 5) educational goals (Price, 2004; Wilson, 2004); more importantly, their gender and ethnicity would have a major influence on their experiences as well. Therefore, at the onset, I believed that these factors would play a major role in the type and level of engagement experiences for African American males in community colleges, which also held true based upon the findings. I recognized that each student would experience engagement in multiple and various ways based on their different and unique life

17

experiences; however, I still believe that institutions need to understand students’ cultural contexts (i.e. how their ethnicity and gender affects their experiences) within the institution and take responsibility for developing effective strategies and programs to successfully engage all students, and in this case, African American males in educational activities on college campuses. Lastly, the notion of student engagement is based on large, general student populations at predominately White, four-year institutions and therefore, I questioned whether the current notion of student engagement is adequately conceptualized for African American males in community colleges. From my experience, working as a community college administrator for the past seven years, I’ve observed African American male students who do not engage in educational activities while on campus. Some African American males tend to approach their collegiate experiences with a sense of independence, and intentionally choose not to seek out or utilize available support, assistance or services on community college campuses; other African American males may be engaged socially, with peers, congregating in a specific location on campus, however, their level of interactions seem to be strictly social, and don’t appear to reach a deeper level of support or structure that focuses on academic or educational issues; this assumption emerged throughout the research as well. Furthermore, some African American males may have been engaged outside of the institution, within community-based organizations; however the impact of engaging in community based organizations remain unaccounted for in college settings. Therefore,

Full document contains 199 pages
Abstract: This dissertation shows the results of an investigation into the engagement experiences of African American males in a California Community College. In an effort to illuminate such experiences, a phenomenological investigation into the experiences of African American male students in engaging in educationally purposeful activities on a community college campus was conducted, with extensive interviews of 12 participants. Research questions asked about the students' experiences regarding their use of time on campus outside of class, faculty interaction, peer interaction, campus involvement and utilization of institutional resources--constructs identified from previous research in Student Engagement theory. Results of the investigation showed consistency of experience in seven distinct areas. First, having a clear educational goal and an identified path in which to achieve it allows students to stay focused and helps to relieve stress and anxiety. Second, students' notion of independence determines whether or not they take the initiative to seek assistance on campus. Third, some students welcome peer interactions, while others perceive these interactions as being distractions, avoiding them altogether. Fourth, students are engaged by faculty who genuinely care and have a passion for teaching. Fifth, students prefer faculty who teach to accommodate various learning styles. Sixth, time and financial constraints are real barriers to student engagement; and seventh, a welcoming, open campus environment promotes greater student satisfaction and enhances student engagement. These results suggest that community colleges have a responsibility to enhance the student engagement experiences of African American males to increase their academic success. Specific suggestions to achieve this goal include: Ensure that students have an educational goal and a clear path in which to achieve it, structure peer groups that are academically focused, ensure students understand seeking assistance is normal and expected, develop a culture of success for African American males, and do the necessary work to understand and validate students' experiences.