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Qualitative Study on Advising and Persistence of African Americans in Community College

Dr. Pamela White, Jacksonville State University

Community colleges serve a diverse community, and they are the most used pathway by African Americans to enter postsecondary education. The number of African Americans entering community colleges has increased, but degree attainment for African Americans is not growing at a comparable rate. Even though there has been an increase in the recruitment of African Americans from colleges and universities, the research to better facilitate this process is limited. Most of the previous research has focused on the white majority (Johnson, et al.,2019), and little research has been done on ethnic groups (Wilson & Cox,2011). This current research acknowledges the importance of academic advising on the persistence of students in college, yet little is known about how African American students describe the role advising had on their persistence in community college.

The qualitative study, using the theoretical framework of Tinto (1993) and Meriam Tisdells’s qualitative research design, investigates how African American students describe the role advising had on their persistence in community college. Tinto (1993) was chosen based on Tinto’s (1993) research that addressed the special issues surrounding family, community, and social and academic integration of African American students in postsecondary education.

The interviews during the research study revealed four themes:

  1. Student expectations - The students had clear expectations of what they anticipated from their advisors. The students’ expectations varied to some degree; however, all participants shared three expectations. The participants believed their advisors were responsible for scheduling the participants’ classes, making sure the participants were enrolled in the appropriate classes, and registering the participants for their classes. The participants agreed in their beliefs that advisors should be knowledgeable in these areas. In addition, some participants expected a relationship with their advisors as well as a clear understanding by their advisors of the policies and procedures of the university.

  2. Reality of advising - The students recognized differences existed in their expectations of their advising experiences and the reality of their advising experiences. The participants identified they believed the advising experience is an essential aid in obtaining educational goals even though their experiences ranged from getting the help they needed to enhance their college experience to a level of disappointment in the advising process. These participants believed if a better relationship had existed between the participants and their advisors, the participants would have made higher grades, avoided certain pitfalls, and graduated sooner.

  3. Value of relationships - Students applied a clear value to the relationship between advisors and students. Even though participants recognized the value of having a relationship with their advisors, the level of support desired varied. Participants that had a close relationship with their advisors believed these relationships were valuable in helping them achieve academic goals. Participants that did not establish close relationships with their advisors stated their advisors showed little concern for their success in college; however, while these advisors did sign off on classes, no personal relationship existed between the participants and their advisors.

  4. Need for Diversity - Students believed the relationship between African American students and advising would benefit from a diverse body of advisors. Participants in the study discussed being under-represented on campus, and this led to discontentment with the institution's policies and practices, yet the participants gave praise to administrators or faculty members when the participants interacted with African American faculty and administrators. The participants discussed that being under-represented incited feelings of not being understood by the faculty and administration at the university.

The study revealed a need for higher education to address the role of advising of African American students in community college. The relationships between students and advisors were designed to aid students in the challenges the students encounter while attending college. It is imperative for institutions to recognize a barrier exists between advisors and African American students, and as long as these barriers exist, the advising process cannot fully benefit the African American students. The barriers that exist between African American students and advisors can impede the students’ advancement.

Institutions need to develop strategies to improve the relationship between advisors and African American students. Specifically, the need for diversity among advisors and administrators needs to become an area of focus. Institutional strategies and policies need to be created that create a balance where the population of advisors and administrators represent the diversity of the student population. The research shows that African American students were more comfortable when paired with African American advisors. African American students believed Caucasian advisors were not as concerned with their educational goals as African American advisors.

Advising plays a vital part in helping students reach their academic goals and has been linked to students’ desire to stay or leave college before reaching academic goals. Zacherman and Foubert (2014) found African American students performed better academically when involvement at the institution encompassed a relationship with their advisors.

Increased diversity in advising can improve the relationships between advisors and African American students. Most African American students before entering college have studied in predominantly African American environments, and some struggle with integrating into predominantly White institutions (Robertson & Chaney, 2017). Increased satisfaction with the college experience can lead to the completion of educational goals, yet much research is needed to gain a better understanding on the satisfaction of African Americans while attending college (Chen et al., 2014). Previous research found that African American students struggled with “under representation, social isolation, and racial stereotyping from peers and professors’’ (New, 2016, para 3), and the students believed these issues were caused by a lack of minority faculty and administration (New, 2016).

The knowledge of advisors, as noted in previous research, is the most important advising criteria to students (Allen et al., 2014). Students believed when accurate information was provided by advisors, the advising process aided the students in achieving educational goals, and when provided with incorrect information, this caused unnecessary pitfalls that lead to added time at the institutions.

The discussions with the participants provided a spectrum of information concerning the role of advisors. The participants believed the role of advisors to be an asset when trying to navigate the path to achieve academic goals. In addition, students also acknowledged that advisors are in a position to assist students in developing and reaching life goals. Advisors must acquire an understanding of the cultural and social backgrounds to better serve this population. Acquiring these tools and knowledge will provide the advisors with necessary information needed to be effective advisors for this population, thereby having an opportunity to improve the level of satisfaction needed for African American students to feel included, which will increase their chances of persisting until graduation.


Allen, J., Smith, C., & Muehleck, J. (2014). Pre-and post-transfer academic advising: What students say are the similarities and differences. Journal of College Student Development, 55(4), 353-367. https//doi:10.1353/csd.2014.0034

Chen, P. D., Ingram, T. N., & Davis, L.K. (2014). Bridging student engagement and satisfaction: A comparison between historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly White institutions.The Journal of Negro Education, 83(4), 565-579.

Johnson, R. M., Strayhorn, T. L., & Travers, C. S. (2019). Examining the academic advising experiences of Black males at an urban university: An exploratory case study. Urban Education. Advanced online publication.

New, J. (2016). A counselor who looks like you. Inside Higher E.D.

Robertson, V., & Chaney, C. (2017). "I know it (racism) still exists here:" African American males at a predominantly White Institution (PWI). Harboldt Journal Of Social Relations,1(39), p. 260-282.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. 2nd ed. The University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, K. B., & Cox, E. M. (2011). No kids allowed: Transforming community colleges to support mothering. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 4(2), 218– 241

Zacherman, A., & Foubert, J. (2014). The relationship between engagement in cocurricular activities and academic performance: Exploring gender differences. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. 51 (2), 157-169. DOI:10.1515/jsarp-2014-0016

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