Background of the Study
Although the focus on developing racially and culturally diverse environments for students is promoted in many educational institutions in the United States, the number of minorities, including African Americans, in U.S. colleges and universities is comparably low as it is noted by researchers (Acosta, Duggins, Moore, Adams, & Johnson, 2016; Iloh & Toldson, 2013; Wood & Williams, 2013). This problematic situation is typical for those colleges and universities that are traditionally discussed as predominantly white institutions because African Americans represent only about 10% of the population studying in these institutions (Garibaldi, 2014; Iloh & Toldson, 2013).
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Still, it is also possible to observe a tendency for African Americans to enter colleges and universities more actively nowadays in contrast to the trends typical of the 1990s-2000s (Garibaldi, 2014; Tekleselassie, Mallery, & Choi, 2013). Therefore, it is important to state that, in spite of the interest of minority students in obtaining a higher education and the interest of institutions in promoting diversity and equality, there are still some problems faced by African Americans on this path.
It is also necessary to note that the number of women of color who obtain a higher education in the United States is described as small in comparison to the number of white female students who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities each year (Garibaldi, 2014). However, reports and studies indicate that today, women of color receive more opportunities to obtain a higher education and graduate as high-class professionals (Bartman, 2015; Felder & Barker, 2013).
From this point, according to Bartman (2015), “by 2010, Black American women held 66% of all bachelor degrees attained by Black Americans” (p. 1). While presenting the data for the year of 2012, Garibaldi (2014) stated that “African American women’s enrollment increased by 48.2%” in comparison to the numbers typical for the year of 2002 (p. 375). Thus, in spite of debates regarding women’s of color enrollment in U.S. educational institutions, it is possible to observe some positive changes in the area of obtaining degrees by African American students.
Furthermore, researchers also focus on such positive tendencies as shifts in the number of African American females who obtain degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field (Acosta et al., 2016; Felder & Barker, 2013; Garibaldi, 2014). These areas are traditionally discussed as dominated by males, and female representatives of minority groups usually choose other spheres for their further professional development, for instance, education, nursing, and social services (Felder & Barker, 2013; Garibaldi, 2014; Iloh & Toldson, 2013). It is also important to pay attention to the fact that even if minority female students successfully cope with tests to enter a college or a university, they often do not graduate or receive their diploma.
From this perspective, the problem is that many African American females cannot handle a new situation of obtaining a higher education because of a range of factors, and they choose not to continue their study. According to Felder and Barker (2013), the previous research on the degree attainment by African Americans “has deemed low degree completion rates at preceding educational levels and an under-representation of minority faculty as two primary causes for the slow progression of African American doctoral degree completion rates in the United States” (p. 2).
Furthermore, while referring to Acosta et al. (2016), it is important to note that African American students need more time in order to obtain their degree in contrast to white students. As a result, their opportunities to be employed and improve their social status can significantly decrease (Bartman, 2015; Garibaldi, 2014). It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that researchers are inclined to associate this situation with certain barriers that African American females can experience while studying in colleges and universities.
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After being enrolled in an educational institution, women of color need to adapt to new environments, and their communication with peers and professors can be associated with a lot of obstacles. Thus, according to Acosta et al. (2016), in spite of overcoming certain obstacles, including financial and social ones, to a higher education at the stage of enrollment, those African American women who successfully entered an educational institution also experience other different types of barriers.
Challenges faced by minority students can have numerous origins, and they can be connected with difficulties in developing “mentoring relationships, securing adequate funding to support doctoral studies, frustrations with faculty who provided a lack of academic support related to research and academic writing” (Acosta et al., 2016, p. 34). These challenges and barriers can prevent African American women from graduating and developing their professional potential and career.
Researchers note that educational institutions in the United States experience difficulties with recruiting and retaining African American female students. According to Felder and Barker (2013), the problem is that many U.S. colleges and universities lack the faculty represented by minorities with the focus on African Americans. As a result, those women of color who enter predominantly white institutions can feel isolated because they require the support of minority tutors and professors, as well as peers. Bartman (2015) proposes mentoring as the key approach to overcoming the problem of African American females’ isolation and exclusion in institutions where the overall percentage of minority students is comparably low. Thus, certain practices are required in order to help women of color adapt to environments that can be unfriendly to them.
Although racism and sexism are prohibited in modern U.S. educational institutions, researchers note that origins of barriers faced by young African American females on their paths to obtaining a higher education can be in these factors, which are reflected in many practices and interaction norms in colleges and universities. Wood and Williams (2013) stated that effective diversity-oriented policies are required to address the problem of prejudice and stereotyping in modern institutions. Bartman (2015) paid attention to the fact that African American females can suffer from the development of both gender and race stereotypes.
As a result, their interest in studies decreases because of the experienced stress and obstacles in interactions with other students. Reactions of African American women to the experienced challenges can be threefold: women of color do not enter educational institutions because of fears associated with stereotyping and discrimination; women of color choose not to continue education because of stressful environments; women of color choose to cope with barriers and obtain a degree despite obstacles (Bartman, 2015; Garibaldi, 2014; Tekleselassie et al., 2013). These aspects require further study and discussion.
Researchers also refer to differences in obtaining degrees in predominantly white institutions and community colleges. Thus, community colleges are viewed as providing more opportunities for diverse students to obtain a higher education (Iloh & Toldson, 2013). Still, even community colleges can follow practices that are based on prejudice and stereotyping in relation to representatives of minority groups (Iloh & Toldson, 2013; Wood & Williams, 2013). As a result, it is possible to state that cases when community colleges follow ineffective strategies of working with African American female students are frequent. Therefore, these educational institutions also require revising their approaches to realizing specific diversity and equality policies.
Nevertheless, in spite of many studies devoted to discussing the problem of a higher education for diverse students, it is important to pay attention to the fact that there are certain gaps in the literature on experiences of African American women in community colleges. Some researchers are inclined to concentrate on studying minority students’ experiences in predominantly white institutions (Felder & Barker, 2013).
Other experts are interested only in studying males’ experiences, without determining barriers typical of African American women (Iloh & Toldson, 2013; Wood & Williams, 2013). Still, one should state that the discussion of African American students’ experiences in community colleges is important because in 2013, “more than 50 percent of African American students in postsecondary education” were enrolled in community colleges in contrast to “only 40 percent of their White peers,” who also selected these institutions (Iloh & Toldson, 2013, p. 206). As a result, the issue of African American females’ access to a higher education and possible barriers need to be examined in detail in order to cover this gap in the current academic literature in the field.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study is to examine experiences of African American females regarding possible barriers or challenges that they face while obtaining a higher education. The focus is on the sample of African American females who were purposively selected for this study in order to identify potential barriers to obtaining academic degrees. It is important to note that this phenomenological study is oriented to conducting interviews with those African American women who can share their experiences regarding the process of studying in educational institutions because it is significant to guarantee that representatives of this sample have the information that is directly related to the study’s topic and focus.
This study is also aimed at determining what particular obstacles can be faced by African American females on their paths to receiving a higher education. The reason is that many researchers note that current policies and practices adopted in U.S. educational institutions are not effective to promote diversity, avoid discrimination, and address stereotyping (Iloh & Toldson, 2013; Wood & Williams, 2013). As a result, women of color can face such barriers as prejudice, the lack of support, stress, and bullying among others (Bartman, 2015; Iloh & Toldson, 2013).
In addition, the problem is that women of color can face difficulties at all stages of obtaining academic degrees because of financial problems, social and family issues, the impact of their community, and other factors (Garibaldi, 2014; Tekleselassie et al., 2013). These obstacles are mentioned by many researchers in their studies, but there is still a lack of the detailed research on this topic.
From this perspective, it is possible to state that women of color are viewed as representatives of a vulnerable population when they choose to continue their education in higher institutions. Still, it is important to note that researchers do not provide a single idea regarding the presence of barriers in all institutions because of colleges’ focus on supporting the principles of equality (Bartman, 2015; Garibaldi, 2014; Tekleselassie et al., 2013). As a result, one should state that this study is important to investigate African American females’ lived experiences and determine any obstacles that they experience while planning to receive an academic degree.
This study is also oriented to analyzing the situation in U.S. community colleges and providing recommendations regarding approaches to addressing these obstacles and improving policies from the perspective of public administration. The reason is that any identified obstacles can prevent women of color from developing their career, and this factor is directly associated with unemployment rates for African American women in the United States (Acosta et al., 2016; Garibaldi, 2014). As a result, this study is aimed at analyzing women’s experiences and ideas regarding possible barriers from the point of how they can be addressed with reference to institutional policies and practices.
If there are barriers for women of color to obtain a higher education, and they are not addressed, this situation creates social and economic problems in those communities where the number of African Americans is high. Having no appropriate education, these persons cannot find jobs and improve their material status or position (Bartman, 2015; Garibaldi, 2014). Therefore, much attention should be paid to examining experiences of those African American females who study and graduated from community colleges, identifying or specifying possible barriers faced by these women, and formulating recommendations for the improvement of the described situation while focusing on the area of public administration.
Acosta, M., Duggins, S., Moore, T. E., Adams, T., & Johnson, B. (2016). From whence cometh my help?: Exploring black doctoral student persistence. Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs, 2(1), 3-12.
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Bartman, C. C. (2015). African American women in higher education: Issues and support strategies. College Student Affairs Leadership, 2(2), 1-7.
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.
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.
Tekleselassie, A., Mallery, C., & Choi, J. (2013). Unpacking the gender gap in postsecondary participation among African Americans and Caucasians using hierarchical generalized linear modeling. The Journal of Negro Education, 82(2), 139-156.
Wood, J. L., & Williams, R. C. (2013). Persistence factors for black males in the community college: An examination of background, academic, social, and environmental variables. Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, 1(2), 1-28.