Preventing African American College Students from Dropping Out

February 27, 2020

The history of African-Americans is celebrated throughout the year, and even more so during the month of February. As we continue to reflect on the achievements in the black community and recognize their significant contributions to society, we must also acknowledge the challenges they still face today.

Since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the percentage of wealth owned by blacks has increased from .5% to less than 2%. The legacy and impact of slavery has left a tremendous effect on African-Americans’ ability to move up from one income bracket to another. This is especially true when we examine the higher education system that is designed to benefit the wealthy.

Having access to a college education can contribute to increasing a household’s income. Over a lifetime, individuals with a Bachelor’s degree make 84% more than those with only a high school diploma.However, research shows that low-income, first-generation students are not reaching college completion. In fact, only 21% of low-income, first-generation college students earn a college degree within 6 years of enrolling in school. It’s important to note that 41% of black students are first generation or the first in their family to attend a college or university.

How do we ensure these students not only have access to earning a degree, but also have the tools and support they need throughout the college journey? Here are some effective strategies to help get these students to and through college:

College Fit and Match: Students are more likely to reach college completion by attending the school that fits their social, academic, and financial needs. A good place to begin their research is the U.S. Department of Education’s website. There, students will find tools such as the college navigator which is a search engine that allows you to filter your results by college characteristics such as majors offered, size of school, and graduation rates. Without understanding a college characteristic, such as college selectivity, students may under-match or select a college that doesn’t meet their academic qualifications.

Understanding Financial Eligibility: Youth are more likely to succeed in college if they attend a selective institution, but low-income students may not consider these colleges because they often underestimate their eligibility for financial aid, and overestimate college costs. To help dispel misinformation, students can use the net calculator on the college or university website to determine how much they would have to pay after subtracting scholarships and grants. These resources are important to give students a more informed picture of their best college options.

Mentoring: When young adults have mentors, they are 55% more likely to enroll in college. Julius Johnson, an alumnus of CPE’s program, shared how his mentor helped him. “Terrence helped me with the college application process by giving me the pros and cons of every school I was interested in. This gave me clarity when I applied because I was able to make an educated decision on what school truly fit my values,” stated Johnson.

Adjusting to Campus Life: Once African-American students enroll in college, they may struggle with adapting socially and culturally. CPE college student, Nate Green, shares his freshman year experience: “In my first semester, I finished with a 1.9 GPA. Some family and friends suggested I take a semester off and hinted at the idea that college may not be for me. My CPE mentor helped me devise a plan that kept me in school and focused on making it to the finish line.” Green demonstrates the importance of having support from a mentor while in college. Students should continue to stay connected to their mentor and find peer mentoring support on-campus. Research shows that peer mentors help students achieve positive outcomes. They help mentees work through difficulties in college and improve their overall self-esteem.

First-generation college students succeed at higher rates when they feel a sense of belonging in the college community. Students can seek out cultural student organizations and events to help them meet other students with similar experiences. It is evident that there is more work to be done to ensure equal access to education that would improve the economic future of our country as a whole, but especially to contribute to addressing systematic inequalities that have led to black families having significantly less wealth than white families.