African American Women in Higher Education

The Role of Public Administration and Higher Education

Public administration is associated with providing public-oriented services, the focus of which is on addressing people’s needs in this or that area. From this perspective, public administrators are concentrated on researching needs of certain groups of people in order to propose solutions to problems or barriers with the help of public resources and appropriate policies or initiatives (Fenwick & McMillan, 2014). Ringeling (2015) also notes that public administration as a field of practice concerns the preparation of public administrators as providers of public services, and it is also related to the development and implementation of certain policies and strategies to promote the change in public agencies, institutions, and society. Thus, in the field of higher education in the United States, activities of public administrators are directed toward improving the availability of higher education for African Americans with the focus on women’s opportunities and experiences regarding obtaining an academic degree.

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Researchers pay much attention to discussing the role of public administration and associated services in the context of higher education and individuals’ access to it. According to Shand and Howell (2015), the role of public administration in the sphere of higher education is important because postsecondary educational institutions are oriented to covering needs of people regarding their education and further career development, and public administrators are able to regulate and manage all issues and obstacles faced by individuals on their paths to higher education. Furthermore, many cases associated with the sphere of higher education can be resolved only involving public administrators as effective managers and even policymakers (Fenwick & McMillan, 2014). Therefore, the role of public administration in regulating activities of higher educational institutions is considerable.

Public administrators are focused on formulating questions to resolve, researching issues and related facts, and proposing effective strategies to address the identified problems. According to Shand and Howell (2015), it is important to discuss the role of public administration in relation to higher education from the perspective of public administrators’ effectiveness in resolving all issues that can be observed in modern educational institutions in the United States. One of the public strategies aimed at attracting African American women to U.S. colleges and universities was the effort of the Obama Administration to involve African Americans in historically black colleges, community colleges, and predominantly white institutions for receiving the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree (Alexander & Hermann, 2016; Jackson, 2013). The principle of the STEM education was formulated by the Obama Administration as a priority for opening these educational fields for minorities, including women (Alexander & Hermann, 2016). The reason was in the fact that women of color were previously underrepresented at faculties associated with obtaining a degree in technologies or engineering.

The role of public administration in guaranteeing higher education for African American women is also in developing programs and initiatives to support low-income female students, provide them with scholarships, and organize funds to address the needs of minorities (Fenwick & McMillan, 2014). According to Ringeling (2015), efforts of public administrators in the United States regarding the attraction of African American women to higher educational institutions led to increasing the number of women of color in historically black colleges, community colleges, and predominantly white institutions. Therefore, more activities of public administrators should be oriented to addressing the problem of the underrepresentation of black female students in postsecondary educational institutions.

Historical Overview of African American Women Obtaining Higher Education

The problem of the disproportionate college enrollment in relation to African American women can be discussed as having a historical background. According to Garibaldi (2014), African American women’s opportunities to obtain higher education were always limited in the United States, and the situation began to slightly change only in the 1960s, after the decision declared in relation to the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Following this decision, the racial segregation in the U.S. educational institutions became viewed as unconstitutional. However, in spite of the increased higher education enrollment for minorities, African American women were still underrepresented in colleges and universities in comparison to white females (Garibaldi, 2014; Iloh & Toldson, 2013). In the 1960s and 1970s, the affirmative action policies allowed for improving the situation for women in historically black institutions, but overall rates of African American women with academic degrees remained to be low.

Although rates of graduating from high school for African American women increased significantly in the 1970s and 1980s, their enrollment in higher educational institutions was still limited. In his descriptive quantitative study, Garibaldi (2014) examined the situation in relation to African Americans and stated that the percentage of women of color in colleges and universities of the United States still remained to be low in comparison to the number of white students. Thus, “59,100 Black students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1976 compared with 60,700 in 1981—an increase of only 1,600 Black graduates between those two years” was observed (Garibaldi, 2014, p. 372). However, in the 1970s, the number of women of color with a degree was higher than the number of African American males who received academic degrees in educational institutions.

Historically, the low degree completion for African American females was associated with a range of factors, including social and economic ones, as well as these women’s choices of vocational training. As a result, during the 1980s and 1990s, the majority of African American women received professional training and was not involved in studying engineering, technologies, and science. Thus, in 1982, “college enrollment after high school was 40 percent for Blacks compared with 53 percent for White students” (Iloh & Toldson, 2013, p. 205). In addition, the key focus was on nursing, education, and human resource management (Bartman, 2015). Felder and Barker (2013) analyzed the data for the 1990s and 2000s, and they stated that the involvement of African American women in receiving doctoral degrees was also minimal. Furthermore, traditionally the limited number of African Americans studied in higher educational institutions, and the limited number of women of color was the part of the faculty to support minorities.

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Many studies are focused on examining the situation in obtaining a higher education by African American women. McCoy (2014) noted that, although statistics demonstrate that more African American women received academic degrees in comparison to black males during the period of the 1980s, and they were actively enrolled in educational institutions in the 1990s, the situation was positive only with the focus on historically black institutions or community colleges. The number of African American males who studied in predominantly white institutions or who received masters and doctoral degrees was always higher, accentuating the gender gap and inequality in the sphere of higher education (Iloh & Toldson, 2013; McCoy, 2014). As a result, a historical overview of females’ educational experience indicates that it is possible to speak about certain barriers for African American women on the paths to higher education.

Current Status of African American Women in Higher Education

The current status of African American females in higher education is important to be studied in detail in order to conclude on possible changes in women’s access to receiving academic degrees. According to the data collected and analyzed by National Center for Education Statistics (2016), the percentage of African American female students enrolled in postsecondary educational institutions increased from 19.1% in 1985 to 35.7% in 2015. For African American males, this percentage changed from 20.2% in 1985 to 34.1% in 2015 (Figure 1). It is possible to observe that the number of African American female students studying in colleges is slightly higher than the number of African American male students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). However, while comparing the data for African American and white female students, it is important to note that in 2015, 44.5% of white females were enrolled in U.S. colleges in comparison to 35.7% of African American female students (Figure 1).

The percentage of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions, by gender and ethnicity, 1985-2015.
Figure 1. The percentage of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions, by gender and ethnicity, 1985-2015 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).

While discussing the situation regarding the enrollment of women of color in colleges, it is possible to focus on the tendency typical of higher education in the United States: the number of women studying in postsecondary institutions is higher than the number of men. According to Garibaldi (2014), this tendency can be observed since the 1990s. Nevertheless, the number of African American female students who received degrees during the period of 1990-2012 is low while comparing it to the number of white women who received the same degrees (Iloh & Toldson, 2013). Felder and Barker (2013) noted that, despite the improved access of women of color to higher education, the observed racial disparity does not allow for speaking about removing all barriers for Africa American women to obtaining a degree. In spite of policies oriented to increasing the enrollment of African American female students in colleges and universities, the graduation rates for women of color are also low because many of them leave institutions without receiving diplomas because of a range of factors and barriers (Bartman, 2015). The literature and statistics demonstrate that there is still a gap in the number of African American female students receiving degrees in comparison to white females.

Researchers are also concentrated on the current status of African American female leaders in higher educational institutions. Wallace, Budden, Juban, and Budden (2014) paid attention to the fact that the lack of African American females at faculties of different institutions is one of the reasons for the limited number of black female students in these colleges and universities. A positive tendency can be observed only with reference to historically black institutions and community colleges (Jackson, 2013). According to Davis and Maldonado (2015), both African American females and males became presidents of or took leadership positions in about 90 historically black institutions, but the percentage of African American female leaders in postsecondary institutions is only about 4-6%. Furthermore, when women of color seek for a position in a predominantly white institution, they usually face significant barriers (Wallace et al., 2014). This tendency is associated with the comparably low number of women of color involved as tutors or professors in predominantly white institutions. From this perspective, the literature accentuates a significant gap in the representation of not only black female students in colleges and universities of the United States but also black female faculty members and leaders.

Lack of Organizational Commitment

The review of the literature on the topic of African American women in higher education indicates that researchers are interested in studying causes and factors that can be associated with black females’ impossibility to graduate from U.S. colleges and universities even if they were successfully enrolled in institutions. According to Bartman (2015), the problem is in the lack of commitment and motivation because of observed barriers and challenges. Thus, Felder and Barker (2013) stated that many African American females choose to leave institutions before graduating because of facing such problems as discrimination, prejudice, the lack of support, economic problems, and family issues, including marriage and pregnancy. McCoy (2014) noted that many black females are not aware of their opportunities for the future career development if they obtain a degree because of being afraid of bias and obstacles. Furthermore, having economic and social barriers, African American women can demonstrate the lack of commitment because of focusing on professions that do not require specific education or on their families. All these factors seem to influence the level of black female students’ commitment to studying in postsecondary institutions.

While focusing on such important factor as the lack of support from peers and faculty members, researchers claim that African American females can have little motivation to receive an academic degree because they do not experience some assistance during their study (Felder & Barker, 2013). Davis and Maldonado (2015) paid attention to the fact that African American female students need mentors in colleges and universities in order to improve their experience and address possible barriers. Such mentors should be representatives of minorities in order to increase black women’s satisfaction and motivation to receive an academic degree. Thus, female students can experience certain difficulties during their study. According to Bartman (2015), “there are some institutions where enrollment of Black women is so low that there is no sense of community for these students on campus and therefore their identity development lacks appropriate cultural references,” and this situation negatively affects “retention and attainment rates and adds to the lack of critical mass of this particular student group” (p. 4-5). As a result, the lack of commitment and interest in the study can lead to absenteeism or low attendance rates of African American female students.

Researchers focus on the idea that the problem is in the lack of comfortable conditions for minority students in U.S. colleges and universities. The culture of predominantly white institutions is oriented to supporting white female and male students. However, in spite of the fact that historically black institutions can promote the development of the black culture and the sense of belonging to a community, there are no effectively implemented policies, strategies, and practices that can be used to attract and retain African American students to guarantee their successful graduation (Felder & Barker, 2013; Jackson, 2013). A similar situation is observed at community colleges where the number of African American students is high, but the attention paid to their support is not enough (Iloh & Toldson, 2013). All the discussed factors can influence black female students’ experience regarding their study at higher educational institutions and motivation to receive a diploma.

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References

Alexander, Q. R., & Hermann, M. A. (2016). African-American women’s experiences in graduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at a predominantly white university: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9(4), 307-314.

Bartman, C. C. (2015). African American women in higher education: Issues and support strategies. College Student Affairs Leadership, 2(2), 1-7.

Davis, D. R., & Maldonado, C. (2015). Shattering the glass ceiling: The leadership development of African American women in higher education. Advancing Women in Leadership, 35(1), 48-64.

Felder, P., & Barker, M. (2013). Extending bell’s concept of interest convergence: A framework for understanding the African American doctoral student experience. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8(1), 2-20.

Fenwick, J., & McMillan, J. (2014). Public administration: What is it, why teach it and does it matter? Teaching Public Administration, 32(2), 194-204.

Garibaldi, A. (2014). The expanding gender and racial gap in American higher education. The Journal of Negro Education, 83(3), 371-384.

Iloh, C., & Toldson, I. (2013). Black students in 21st century higher education: A closer look at for-profit and community colleges. The Journal of Negro Education, 82(3), 205-358.

Jackson, D. L. (2013). A balancing act: Impacting and initiating the success of African American female community college transfer students in STEM into the HBCU environment. The Journal of Negro Education, 82(3), 255-271.

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McCoy, D. (2014). A phenomenological approach to understanding first-generation college students’ of color transitions to one “extreme” predominantly white institution. College Student Affairs Journal, 32(1), 155-169.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Table 302.60. Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level of institution and sex and race/ethnicity of student: 1970 through 2015. Web.

Ringeling, A. (2015). How public is public administration? A constitutional approach of publicness. Teaching Public Administration, 33(3), 292-312.

Shand, R., & Howell, K. E. (2015). From the classics to the cuts: Valuing teaching public administration as a public good. Teaching Public Administration, 33(3), 211-220.

Wallace, D., Budden, M., Juban, R., & Budden, C. (2014). Making it to the top: Have women and minorities attained equality as higher education leaders? Journal of Diversity Management, 9(1), 83-88.

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