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Community College Persistence among Minority Students: A Conceptual Analysis of the Literature (Sumario en espanol)

Module by: Edna Kingsley, Stacey Edmonson, John R. Slate. E-mail the authors

Summary: Community colleges in the 21st century fill a variety of important educational roles. Because of their geographic accessibility, open-door admission policies, and affordable tuition, community colleges also attract a diverse group of students. Researchers who have conducted retention studies on students of color have indicated that it is not only the educational institution’s responsibility to ensure success, but also the responsibilities of others (e.g., students, family, school administrators, faculty members, and staff) to ensure student success. Lack of education among students of color will continue to create inequality within the workforce in the United States. Thus, included in this review of the literature are discussions of the impact minority growth will have in the United States, the implications of growth on society, the impact of growth on student retention, Black students, Hispanic students, and the factors affecting student retention. A discussion of several studies on the need to improve minority retention is also included.

Sumario en espanol

Universidades de comunidad en el terraplén del siglo XXI una variedad de papeles educativos importantes. Debido a su accesibilidad geográfica, políticas de la admisión de la abrir-puerta, y cuota comprable, las universidades de comunidad también atraen a grupo diverso de estudiantes. Los investigadores que han conducido retención estudian en estudiantes del color han indicado que es no sólo la responsabilidad de la institución educativa asegurar éxito, pero también las responsabilidades de otras (e.g., los estudiantes, familia, los administradores de la escuela, los miembros de la facultad, y personal) de asegurar éxito del estudiante. La carencia de la educación entre estudiantes del color continuará creando la desigualdad dentro de la mano de obra en los Estados Unidos. Así, incluidas en esta revisión de la literatura son las discusiones de la minoría del impacto que el crecimiento tendrá en los Estados Unidos, las implicaciones del crecimiento en sociedad, el impacto del crecimiento en la retención del estudiante, los estudiantes negros, los estudiantes hispánicos, y los factores que afectan la retención del estudiante. Una discusión de varios estudia en la necesidad de mejorar a minoría que la retención también se incluye.



This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of education administration. In addition to publication in the Connexions Content Commons, this module is published in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Volume 5, Number 4 (October - December, 2010), ISSN 2155-9635. Formatted and edited in Connexions by Theodore Creighton and Brad Bizzell, Virginia Tech.


In this review of the literature, we discuss community colleges in the 21st century. A discussion of the influence that minority growth will have in the United States, the implications of growth on society, the impact of growth on student retention, Black students, Hispanic students, and the factors affecting student retention will follow. This analysis of the literature will conclude with a discussion of several studies on the need to improve the retention of minority students.

Affirmative action programs have increased college attendance for minority college students. This increase has caused administrators in higher education to approach the quandary of minority participation in two stages. In the first stage, 30 years ago, the problem of recruiting students of color was identified and discussed. During this time, educators placed importance on the recruitment of minority students. In the second stage, many years later, educators began to understand that the problem was not restricted to recruiting minority students. Thus, their focal point shifted from recruiting minority students to the retention of minority students. As such, this focus caused administrators to implement programs such as learning laboratories and tutorial services to help retain minority students (De los Santos & Rigual, 1994). Despite efforts to recruit and retain students, the dropout rate for minority students increased.

In today’s society, it takes both the student and school administrators to achieve the common goal, which is increasing minority retention until matriculation. To improve the success rate of minority students, several authors (e.g., Attinasi, 1989; Braunstein, McGrath, & Pescatrice, 2000-2001; Campbell & Campbell, 1997) have contended that support programs should focus on financial aid, academic support, social/cultural support systems, and campus environment. A campus wide commitment must be present to minority students and to an appreciation of their contributions. Moreover, administrators and faculty/staff must show honest effort by improving support services along with cultural services and campus climates for these groups of students.

Community College in the 21st Century

The community college today serves the local community and has the following functions: developmental education (i.e., remedial coursework that prepares students to advance into academic credit courses, academic transfer courses, work-force education (e.g. medical programs, cosmetology, computer, auto repair, fashion design), and continuing education (i.e., courses offered to everyone in the community who would like to continue learning) (Cohen & Brawer, 2002). Community colleges are affordable and open the pathway to obtaining a bachelor’s degree for many underprepared but motivated students (Dowd, Cheslock, Melguizo, Gabbard, Singleton, & Dee, 2006). In the United States today, more than 1,100 community colleges exist, with over 5.4 million students enrolled for credit. Student enrollment consists of 44% of undergraduates and 46% of first-generation college students. After their enrollment in community colleges, 42% of students indicate that their intention is to obtain an associate degree and then transfer to a 4-year institution to earn their bachelor’s degree (Hungar & Lieberman, 2001). Furthermore, “community colleges also serve a disproportionate number of historically underrepresented minorities, and Hispanics are the largest of these groups” (Wolf-Wendel, Twombly, Morphew, & Sopchich, 2004, p. 214). Nora (2000) documented that “more than half of all African American and Hispanic students who attend college following high school enter two-year institutions” (p. 3).

Technology is embedded in the workforce today, causing most jobs to require a high level of education that affects the graduation rate for all colleges. Students of color who have historically been the most poorly served, financially challenged, and underprepared for college, continue to increase in number and will soon become the majority, or, as Garza (2003) stated, that they are already the majority. Therefore, the United States must do a better job at educating all ethnic/racial groups for these groups to compete in the national and global marketplace. Murdock (2006) anticipated that community colleges enrollment will continue to increase with disproportionate numbers of Hispanic students. In 2000, White students were the majority students attending community colleges at 54.7%, whereas the Hispanic student representation was slightly over 29%. Black and Asian students represented 11.1% and 4.7%, respectively of the students attending community colleges. By 2040, the Hispanic student population is predicted to be the majority attending community colleges, representing approximately 57% of the student body. The White student body enrollment is expected to hold a quarter of the attendance, and Asian students (10.2%) will exceed the Black population (8.1%) at community colleges (Murdock, 2006). However, it is projected that the population demographics will change based on the number of Black and Hispanic students expected to be born and educated in the United States. These projections, if they occur, are likely to create negative influences on American society if these persons are not sufficiently educated to compete in a society that requires an educated workforce.

Minority Growth in the United States

If the current minority growth continues, the demographic profile of the United States will change considerably by the middle of this century, according to the population projections published by the former Texas state demographer (Passel & Cohen, 2008; Phillippe, 2000). The nation’s population will grow from 296 million persons in 2005 to 438 million persons in 2050, and 82% of the growth during this time will be due to incoming immigrants and their children (Passel & Cohen, 2008). Murdock (2003) emphasized that the growth of the population will be due to the growth of minority populations. Murdock’s (2003) projection was that half of the American population will belong to present minority groups by 2050, and by 2060, the United States will be a nation where minorities are the majority. Non-Hispanic Whites, who represented 67% of the population in 2005, will be 47% of the American population in 2050. Hispanics will increase from 14% of the population in 2005 to 29% in 2050. Blacks were 13% of the population in 2005 and will be roughly the same proportion in 2050. Asians, who were 5% of the population in 2005, will be 9% in 2050 (Murdock, 2003). Leaders in higher education institutions and the general public are aware of the growth of its minority population and recognize that it is important to educate these groups. We content that leaders and educator are obligated to prepare the next generation for future opportunities so that the United States can continue to lead the world. Doing so should enable the nation to compete locally, regionally, nationally, and globally (Murdock, 2003).

Implications of Minority Growth in Society

According to the United States Census Bureau (2002), both men and women with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn 61% more than those persons who have only a high school diploma. In 1999, the median household income in a White household was $45,367; in a Black household, it was $29, 423; in a Hispanic household, it was $33,676; and in an Asian household, the median income was $51,908 (Lopez, 2006). If such household inequality continues, within the next 50 years the entire nation would become poorer, and the value of the U.S. dollar would be less than it is today. Thus, individual income adjusted for inflation is projected to decrease by almost $400 per person (Lopez, 2006).

Post World War II, the job market was stronger because of the increase in the number of jobs in the manufacturing industry. Citizens working in the manufacturing industries were considered to be middle class. These jobs also provided excellent and inexpensive health care benefits. In today’s society these jobs are becoming extinct because the job market is more knowledge-based and dominated by the use of technology (American Association of Community Colleges, 2004). By way of the fast-growing, knowledge-based economy, and the requirements society has placed on a more educated culture, higher-education institutions will have to take action by recruiting more students from ethnically and economically diverse backgrounds into their institutions.

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (2005), the United States would see a rise in individual income of almost $805 billion if the U.S. educated its Black, Hispanic, and American Indian persons in the same manner as White persons are educated. As the country becomes more culturally diverse, social stratification will become a major priority. “If trends regarding income disparities and access to education persist, the uneducated and unskilled workforce will be a social and economic detriment to the nation” (Lopez, 2006, p. 14). Increasing success for students of color would be valuable for the entire country. As a result, if institutions of higher education cannot recruit and graduate more students of color, a decline will occur in the income levels for everyone in the United States. The success of all students, especially students of color, should be on a national scale so that these predictions do not come to fruition (Jones & Watson, 1990).

Financial profits on education are important for individuals as well. The weekly income of college graduates was about 75% higher in 2006, than the weekly income of high-school graduates. “In turn, workers with a high-school degree earned 42% more than those without any diploma” (Bernanke, 2007, p. 2). Other researchers have also documented that the returns associated with a college education are numerous. From a societal position, a college graduate is less likely to become incarcerated and has a lesser chance of being unemployed compared to a student with a high-school diploma (Cabrera, Hagedorn, Nora, Pascarella, & Terenzini, 1999). Furthermore, the reward of education is more than monetary gain. “Highly educated individuals are happier on average, make better personal financial decisions, suffer fewer spells of unemployment, and enjoy better health” (Bernanke, 2007, p. 1). Additionally, educated persons are more likely to volunteer in their community, have a higher standard of living, and have a positive reception for differences related to diversity (Dee, 2004; Gardiner, 1994; Glaeser, Ponzetto, & Shleifer, 2006).

Student Retention

Historically, the United States is known globally for the economic gain and the benefits of providing high-quality education by expanding access to high school education and then access to college for its citizens after World War II (Goldin & Katz, 1999, 2001). “By 1966, about half of the workforce aged 25 and older completed high school, and about 10% had completed college” (Bernanke, 2007, p. 2). Some 42 years later, according to the U.S. Department of Education (2006), more than 92% of adults employed had a high-school education, and more than 20% of adults had received at least a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, the high-school graduation rate for 25 to 29 year olds was the same, and the college completion rate only slightly increased (U.S. Department of Education, 2007).

Community colleges have made great strides in expanding educational opportunities, with almost one-half of U.S. undergraduates enrolled in community colleges. Offering affordable tuition and flexible schedules, attending a community college lends way to higher wages, even if a degree is not obtained (Bernanke, 2007). Students who attended community college but did not graduate earned 9% to 13% more than students who did not attend college after high school. Those persons who graduated from a 2-year college and received an associate’s degree earned an even larger salary, 15% to 27% more (Kane & Rouse, 1999). Community colleges are important for 18 to 22 year olds, but they are just as crucial for older adults because they make available flexible schedules, affordable tuition, contractual training for local businesses, and adult education.

Higher education institutions continue to be innovative to ensure that high school graduates are ready for college and have access. Educators and legislatures continue to discuss how they can transition more high school students into higher education and retain and help them matriculate until they graduate. “Since 1990, nearly 80% of high-school completers from high-income families (the top 20 percent of income) have enrolled in college the next fall” (Bernanke, 2007, p. 5). Furthermore, the fall enrollment for low-income families has also increased, unfortunately, their attendance still lags behind their White counterparts (Bernanke, 2007). Students from low-income backgrounds may find transitioning into college more challenging, and may have a greater chance to drop-out because they lack the preparation needed to transition from high school into college (Carneiro & Heckman, 2002). As a result, to increase the retention rate, colleges and universities have implemented special services and programs to assist with the development of the underprepared college student from low-income families (Angrist, Lang, & Oreopoulos, 2006; Bettinger & Long, 2005; Gordon, 2006).

Minority completion of high school and of colleges continues to lag behind the completion rate of their White counterparts. For more than 10 years, the high-school completion rate for White persons aged 25 to 29 was well above 93%, whereas the rate for Black persons of the same age group was steady at nearly 87%. Furthermore, the completion rate for Hispanic persons, although increasing over the period, was only 63% (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The number of White students matriculating through college until completion continues to be higher than minority students. “In recent years, more than one-third of Whites aged 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with less than one-fifth of same-aged Blacks and around 10% of Hispanics” (Bernanke, 2007, p. 2). Increasing minority student enrollment is easier than in the past years; however, retaining them in college is a greater challenge faced by many education institutions today.

Tinto (1987) noted that 41 of every 100 students would not matriculate through college until completion. Colleges and researchers have placed great emphasis on increasing minority student enrollment, but not enough emphasis on what happens to these students once they arrive on campus. Researchers have documented that Black students have a lower graduation rate from many colleges and universities than their White counterparts (Graves,2008). Fortunately, Graves (2008) indicated that colleges continue to work to eliminate graduation disparities and to increase the graduation rate for Black students.

Black Students

Faced with great challenges between 1950s and 1960s, the minority communities fought to obtain a better education and to be treated the same as other citizens in the United States. Fortunately, the Civil Rights Movement opened up the opportunity for minorities to have equal access to America’ colleges and universities. Yet, 40 years later, the representation of minority students continues to be low along with faculty and staff members, at predominantly White colleges and universities (Lang, 1992). In 2006, 42% of Black high school graduates ages 18 to 24 attended college and for many of these students, they were successful in their postsecondary undertakings (Hassen & Edmonds, 2002). Institutions of higher education must realize the value of having a group of diverse faculty and staff members and use that diversity to identify problems and implement programs that will assist with increasing the graduation rate for minority students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2007), during 2001 nearly 1.5 million Black students enrolled in higher education institutions, and of that number, 604,000 were Black students attending community colleges. Unfortunately, the completion rates are at a standstill for these students (Hamilton, 2003). Many studies have been conducted on Black student enrollment in community colleges and reasons why they drop out; however, identifying the various reasons why certain Black students persist until graduation will lend a hand to reducing the attrition rate with this group of students (Lewis & Middleton, 2003). Lewis and Middleton (2003) noted that a positive campus environment and climate are two of the main contributing factors to success and that colleges should be providing clear and precise counseling to students regarding their educational goals. A review of the literature on student retention noted that many researchers examined school belonging by using keywords such as connectedness, relatedness, and psychological membership (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991).

One important characteristic of school belonging for Black students that was identified is classroom participation, which is allowing students to participate openly in the classroom by asking questions, assisting other students, and participating in the dialogue. Students who have a sense of belonging have a better chance of increasing their level of persistence, which is important, especially in the learning environment (Hausmann, Schofield, & Woods, 2007). If campus leaders and students identify with each other, these students are more likely to feel connected to their campus.

Tinto (1997) maintained that classroom interactions between instructors and Black college students may help students adjust to their college environment positively. Hinderlie and Kenny (2002), in their analysis of 186 Black college students at six primarily White universities, emphasized that support from their instructors assisted them with adjusting positively to their campus life. Brown (2000) revealed that colleges and universities providing strong support programs (e.g., having someone on campus they could relate with to ask for assistance) was an important factor contributing to minority students being happy with their college experience. Colleges need to design and implement retention programs that would be capable of assisting students of color in their academic quest until completion. Moreover, colleges should offer training programs for White and faculty members of all ethnicities so that they would have an array of understanding regarding the cultural characteristics of students from all ethnicities to ensure each student’s success until completion.

Students’ families may provide the most assistance during their academic pursue. Students need support from their families for them to achieve their academic goals. Lewis and Middleton (2003) noted that Black students’ education experience would improve substantially if their family members were involved in the educational process. Students who are involved in their college campus and have family members that support them are reported to have higher levels of belongingness, to be more motivated, and to have higher levels of academic achievement. Finn (1989) reported that classroom participation for Black students can have a positive impact on students’ sense of belonging, along with respect between classmates and their instructors.

Students who have family members who support them are more likely to persist (Blau, 1999; Tinto, 1975). Tinto’s (1975) four-factor model of college retention includes the background of the student family, experiences during high school, interaction on campus, and their individual attitudes as predictors regarding how satisfied Black students are with their college experience. These four factors assist students of color with their adjustment to their college life by working together. Other researchers have examined Black students’ experiences of social support (Fleming, 1984; Tinto, 1975) and life satisfaction (Allen, 1992).

Hispanic Students

The Hispanic population accounted for almost half (1.4 million) of the nation’s population growth of 2.9 million within one year July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). Hispanics became the largest minority group in the United States in 2003 and the Census Bureau predicted that Hispanics will continue to grow at a faster rate than any other minority group during this century, which has instant and long-term challenges for higher education (U. S. Census Bureau,2000). Although Hispanics are the majority minority group, their level of success at the postsecondary level may be responsible for the income gap; 29% of Hispanics earned $50,000 or more, whereas 49% of the general population had earnings in this range or higher (Marotta & Garcia, 2003).

Obtaining a college education is valued as the most efficient way to end the cycle of poverty, and lack of opportunity; unfortunately, for the Hispanic community poverty is the most challenging barrier to achieving their education (Choy, 2002; Fry, 2002, 2003; Marotta & Garcia, 2003). In addition, other factors such as higher unemployment rates place Hispanics at greater risk for poverty than Whites. The circumstances of Hispanics should not be misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean that Hispanics have little interest in higher education (Hagedorn & Lester, 2006). Within the past 20 years, Hispanic persons’ aspiration to attend college has increased (Carnevale & Fry, 2002; Fry, 2002; Lim, 2003; Nora, 2000). Historically the Hispanic community has attended community colleges; and because of the expected rapid growth of this population, institutions of higher education are anticipating an increase in their enrollment. Therefore, campus leaders must make it their responsibility that the retention, matriculation, and success of these students are accomplished (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, 2000; Lujan, Gallegos, & Harbour, 2003; Marks, 2003).

Researchers have documented the presence of gaps in the attrition rates among racial and ethnic groups in postsecondary institutions (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2002; Fry, 2003). In college, Hispanics are three times more likely than their White counterparts to leave college without completing their degree or certificate program (Hurtado, Carter, & Spuler, 1996; Hurtado & Garcia, 1994). Fry (2003) reported that college attendance for Hispanics students was equivalent to their White counterpart. Unfortunately, Hispanic students still lag behind Black students and White students in graduating from college (Fry, 2003).

The experience of Hispanic college students is more complex due impart to their lower socioeconomic standing; thus, creating a greater challenge for these students than other barriers. Urgency exists for education institutions to focus on strengthening financial aid programs, particularly for economically and academically challenged college students. In addition to their financial challenges, Hispanic students are underprepared for college and have a larger number of students in developmental college courses which are a factor that put them at a greater risk of not graduating (Fry, 2003).

Nora and Rendon (1990)have analyzed factors that impact persistence: (a) educational goal commitments, (b) financial assistance, (c) social integration or experiences, and (d) institutional commitments. In addition, researchers (e.g., Nora, 1990; Nora & Cabrera, 1996; Nora, Terenzini, Pascarella, & Hagedorn, 1999; Saenz, 2002) documented more factors that affect the academic success of Hispanic students: (a) language barriers, (b) academic performance, (c) environmental factors, (d) perceptions of prejudice and discrimination, (e) support and encouragement by parents, (f) academic and intellectual development while in college, (g) mentoring experiences, (h) pre-college psychosocial experiences, (i) student resiliency, and (j) and students’ spirituality (Astin, 1982; Brint & Karabel, 1989; Dougherty, 1994; Fry, 2002, 2003; Hellmich, 1993; Nora, 1990; Valadez, 1996; Zamani, 2000). Researchers (e.g., De los Santos & Rigual, 1994; Rhoads & Valadez, 1996; Richardson & Skinner, 1990) have suggested that to serve Hispanic and other minority groups better, educators must examine their institutional policies, their current instructional practices, non-working programs, and curriculum.

Factors Affecting Retention

For higher education administrators to improve the retention of minority students, they must first understand and address the reasons why these groups do not complete college. Hispanics typically experience a higher level of stress in college than their White counterparts (Chacon, Cohen, & Strover, 1986; Munoz, 1986). Surprisingly, student academic failure is not the primary cause students depart from college before graduation (McGrath & Braunstein, 1997). In fact, almost 85% of students who leave college made the decision on their own although they were not experiencing academic difficulties; in addition, a great percent of these students had been successful academically and ultimately re-enroll later (Tinto, 1987).

Tinto and Bean developed two conceptual models that have been used to conduct research on student persistence: (a) Tinto’s Student Integration Model (Tinto, 1975, 1993), and (b) Bean’s Attrition Model (1980). In both models the relationship between students’ dedication to their college experience and to their academic success is identified. According to Cabrera, Nora, and Castaneda (1993), these two models support the theory that student academic integration enables students to continue until completion.

Although the attrition rates at certain colleges can lead to the conclusion that a large number of students are not leaving as they did in the past, researchers have noted that the overall withdrawal rates at community colleges still continues with regard to minority students. “Attrition rate for minority students in two-year colleges is about 60%, and in some instances it is as high as 80%” (Nora, 2000, p. 3).

The amount of outside support students receive from their college and family members provide an opening to student success. Perna, Redd and Swail (2003) identified variables that strongly influence student success: (a) academic preparedness: “The educational community often defines academic preparedness on the basis of students’ pre-college academic performance” (Perna et al., 2003, p. 51). Astin (1982) contributed a large amount of the poor foundation of minority students to inequalities that exist in our K-12 public school system. The U.S. Department of Education (2007) reported that “approximately 44% of college students enrolled in at least one remedial course” (p. 49).; (b) campus climate: According to Smedley, Myers, and Harrell (1993), social climate, interracial stresses, racism and discrimination, within-group stresses, and achievement stresses are five barriers minority students experience at largely White institutions. They further asserted that students identified other factors that exist on college campuses that affects the campus climate: (a) not enough minority professors; (b) few students of color; (c) my ability to succeed in college; (d) unfairness; (e) able to embrace having friendships and fitting in with non-minorities; (f) current institutional policies and practices that are racial; (g) being treated unfairly due in part to my ethnic background; and (h) fear of how peers perceive you.; (c) commitment to educational goals and the institution: Students who are more committed to their institution and educational goals are more likely to persist until completion (Cabrera et al., 1993; Tinto, 1993).

Astin (1977) noted that students with no career goals were less likely to achieve their academic goals than those students whose career goals aligned with their academic majors. In a later study, Astin (1982) concluded that students with career goals and selected academic majors were the strongest indicators of students’ plans, suggesting that “the student’s initial choice of a career or major is not an arbitrary occurrence, and that it has significant weight on the student’s long-range professional development” (p. 96).; (d) social and academic integration: Many research studies in which the issue of retention has been examined have focused on students’ ability to integrate socially and academically in the college environment. The path taken by students to become socially integrated into the environment of their institution is known to be an increasing and challenging process; however, the progression and the level of social integration continued throughout the college experience (Light, 2001; Nettles, 1988; Perna et al., 2003). For students to integrate, both academically and socially in their campus life, peer relationships and role models and mentors are critical. A positive role model affords students many positive experiences while attending college. The accessibility students have to role models goes far beyond the social integration of the student. Perna et al. (2003) documented that students tend to persist in a college environment that promotes social interaction with the college’s faculty.

Tinto (1993) also stated that these findings suggest that “interaction with the faculty not only increases social integration and institutional commitment, but it also increases the individual’s academic integration” (p. 109).; and (e) financial aid: For many low-income minority students enrollment and persistence are dependent upon the availability of financial aid. A clear understanding needs to be present to students that receiving their degree will compensate for the costs associated with attaining it (Perna et al., 2003). According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2001), approximately seven years ago, the median household income of Black and Hispanic families was $36,824 and $41,652 respectively, whereas the median household income for White families was $61,643. As a result, financial aid assistance for both Black and Hispanic students is clearly needed for these students to continue their education. Unfortunately, minorities and low-income students who receive financial aid are at a greater risk than their White counterparts and other students from higher-income families to drop out of college before completion due to high tuition and the decline in the dollar amount of grants (Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2001; College Board, 2001; Gladieux & Swail, 1998; Thayer, 2000).

Predictors of Withdrawal

Student success continues to be the focal point for university administrators, researchers, and the nation; thus, causing continues extensive empirical and theoretical studies to be conducted to examine reasons why students drop out of college. Two researchers theoretical framework have dominated research on student retention for the past 30 years: Tinto’s (1975) Student Integration Model and Bean’s (1980, 1982) Student Attrition Model. Together these models examined why students leave and determined that students’ persistence until graduation are based on their academic ability and the cultural of the college. College students who are financially and academically challenged reasons for leaving school may derive from performing at a lower academic level along with not being able to fit in socially or personal reasons. However, high-performing students reasons are usually associated with the institution not having their major, or because they are dissatisfied with the class size or the college, whereas low-performing students, according to Rummel, Acton, Costello, and Pielow (1999), leave because: (a) students transferred, (b) medical problems, (c) financial concerns, (d) family/marriage, (e) personal concerns, (f) academic challenges, and (g) dismissal from the institution. For the most part, students come to college to educate themselves.

Research conducted on student retention or persistence identified institutionally factors that influence disadvantaged students to remain and graduate from college. The main factor that is experienced by minorities and is responsible for the differences in student departure behavior between minorities and non-minorities is the environment that exhibits prejudice and discrimination on campus and in the classroom (Cabrera et al., 1999). Researchers have also recognized many other factors that cause students to leave such as: (a) being a first-generation student; (b) not being prepared academically; (c) lacking financial assistance; (d) postponing enrollment after high school; and (e) the institutional climate (Thomas, Farrow, & Martinez, 1998). Choy (2001) discovered that certain background challenges faced by students either encourages or discourages them to persistence in college. For example, first-generation students are at a greater risk of leaving college before completion. If a student’s parents attended college, the student is more likely to attend college; and as a result, have a greater possibility of graduating from college than a student whose parents did not attend college (Tierney, 1992). Furthermore, the inequality that exist in the college environment, lack of preparation, lack of social integration, lack of family role models and support, limited knowledge about financial aid, are barriers the prevent minority student’s the same educational opportunities (Wright, 1990).

Other barriers were identified that affected minority student retention such as low socioeconomic status, poor academic preparation, and not having clear career goals (Zamani, 2000). If these students face academic challenges and are unsuccessful while in high school, many will not have the motivation to persist in college. On the other hand, researchers have demonstrated that students who were academically successful during high school are more likely to persist until they complete college. Unfortunately, minority college students are not as successful when compared to their White counterparts because they are not encouraged to take advance placement courses in high school so that they could prepare for college. Students of color also lack study skills, time management skills, and social skills which create additional challenges that prevent them from adjusting into the college environment and from being successful. McGregor, Reece, and Garner (1997) examined grades by ethnicity and documented that students of color earned fewer A’s and B’s than their White counterparts although they had the same level of academic skill and aptitude to perform.

House (1999) noted that financial and social goals should not be negatively associated with school withdrawal. Although students of color attend college to improve their financial gain, they are more likely not to complete their education. The minority growth experience is not considered when curriculum is being developed because students of color have been omitted from curricula development. As a result, their academic experience becomes foreign and more challenging as they try to maneuver through an environment that is not cultivating. Enculturation and adjustment to college life has become more of a challenge for students of color. A successful transition and adjustment to the campus environment for students of color can create disadvantages if the campus climate is not racially inclusive (Harris & Kayes, 1996).

Increasing the persistence and graduation rate for students of color in higher education institutions is a challenge; however, researchers must work to understand the students’ K-12 experiences or their life experience before attending college and how the campus climate will impact the students’ decisions to persist once they enroll until completion. Despite the extensive body of literature related to students’ persistence, much is still unknown to educators about the process regarding why students leave and the challenges that surrenders to departure, especially within community colleges (Hagedorn, Perrakis, & Maxwell, 2002).

Improving Minority Retention

After years of research, no long-term solutions exist regarding retaining and graduating under-prepared low-income students even though colleges and universities need to find ways in which to address student academic needs (Adelman, 2007; Zea, Reisen, & Beil, 1997). Furthermore, educators and administers must continue with their obligation to assist students in removing road blocks that create barriers to success. Researchers (e.g., Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996) document, however, that colleges and universities continue to struggle to find ways to enhance their current retention programs to meet the needs of their minority students. The urgency of educational institutions doing a better job at improving minority retention is clean. The American population is becoming more ethnically diverse, and the majority of students enrolled in school in the future will be students of color (Lopez, 2006). Lopez (2006) further asserted that children with poor quality of life, children who are offspring of immigrant parents, and children from racially diverse backgrounds must be given special attention, so that economic hardships do not continue to influence their achievement and academic success in a negative manner.

Due to rapidly growing minority populations, especially in the Hispanic community, community colleges and universities will have a much larger minority population. Due to this growth, institutions of higher education should provide more support programs and additional student services to ensure student success. Several researchers (e.g., Vasquez & Wainstein, 1990) have stated that institutions need to increase the presence of faculty members of color as one way to assist with student success. In addition, institutions of higher education should put into practice a variety of ways to recruit minority faculty members so that they can meet the needs of their rapidly growing minority student population. “While more than a quarter of students in higher education are students of color, the percentage of faculty of color is only a fraction of that number” (Lopez, 2006, p. 21). According to McCubbin (2003), the majority of faculty members in community colleges nationwide are White faculty members. More recently, Harris, Joyner, and Slate (2010) documented that only 10% of faculty members employed in Texas community colleges were Hispanic. This 10% figure reflected a slight increase in the percentage of Hispanic community college faculty members in Texas from 2000 where 8.59% of the faculty were Hispanic (Harris et al., 2010). In a study involving the percentage of Black faculty members employed in Texas community colleges, Joyner and Slate (2010) determined that the percentage of Black faculty members was 6.34% in 2008, compared to 5.23% in 2000. Stovall (1999) contended that having a campus climate that values diversity will encourage academic success among minority students.

Faculty members who educate students from various backgrounds and life experiences, especially students of color, must have good communication skills, cultural sensitivity, and other strong attributes to connect with minority students and assist with their issues. Both Dunwoody and Frank (1995) and Tinto (1987) suggested that the underlining factor to successful student retention is the responsibility of the institution, and its faculty and staff members. The ability of minority students to integrate into the social communities of the college depends greatly on the level of institutional commitment to students of color. Additionally, the level of commitment from an educational institution will have a positive impact on student persistence (Braxton, Milem, & Sullivan, 2000; Light, 2001).

Another major issue that influences minority members involves the inequalities in their education experience during high school. To compensate for these inequities, colleges and universities need to provide additional support services such as financial aid, counseling, mentors, internships, addition tutoring assistance, and other support programs that will assist minority students in acquiring the skills needed to matriculate (Vernez & Mizell, 2000). Researchers (e.g., Cone & Owens, 1991; Kirschenbaum & Perri, 1982) have documented that colleges that offer courses on study skills enhance student retention rates, and that courses on study skills that incorporated self-control facilitate students improving their grade point averages. In another study, researchers demonstrated that peer counseling improved student retention (Jewell & Lubin, 1988). Similarly, Stovall (1999) documented the presence of a positive relationship between being mentored and persistence for minority students.

Educators must continue to remove barriers to completion because of the urgent need by the government and the workforce to educate the growing diversified populations. Open admission is not enough for students; therefore, success must be a high priority to ensure that all students, especially students of color achieve academically (Shulock & Moore, 2007; Vernez & Mizell, 2000; Weissman, Bulakowski, & Jumisko, 1998).

Padilla’s Local Model of Successful Minority Students

Padilla (1998) created a Local Model of Successful Minority Students in which he identified four barriers minority students are facing. To recruit and educate rapidly growing minority populations, community colleges must take action to meet the demands of their internal and external communities. Padilla’s Local Model of Successful Minority Students (1998) is the theoretical framework selected for this article because of our belief that the educational gaps currently documented between ethnic groups needs to be closed. Doing so will require placing emphasis on student participation in higher education and their success in these settings. By increasing student, particularly minority student success in postsecondary settings, the economic base of the country and individual states will be strengthened, thereby enhancing the quality of life. The Padilla (1998) model is set apart from other models in that it allows students to identify barriers to persistence and helps students and institutions to focus on steps they both can take to overcome the barriers to persistence. According to Padilla (1998), his Local Model of Successful Minority Students has four barriers to student persistence: (a) discontinuity, (b) lack of nurturing, (c) lack of presence, and (d) resources. Padilla (1998) contended that if students acquire knowledge and take action on these four barriers, they will become successful in postsecondary settings..


To succeed, minority students must feel welcome, and connected to their college environment. “Research shows that African American students enrolled at predominantly White colleges and universities have experiences vastly different from their African American counterparts attending historically Black colleges and universities” (Booker, 2007, p. 182). Colleges and universities must encourage and appreciate the unique contributions minority students make to campus life. Academic and student development departments should be promoting a college climate in which diversity and the uniqueness of everyone is accepted and valued.

In both psychology and education, the term school belonging refers to students’ fitting into the classroom environment (Goodenow, 1993). One aspect of school belonging for the minority student population has been due to the lack of classroom participation. “Classroom participation is active student engagement in the life and activity of the class (e.g., volunteering responses, assisting other students, posing, questions). Students, who take part in the classroom setting enthusiastically, often report higher levels of belongingness, increased motivation, and achievement” (Booker, 2007, p. 182). Positive interaction between instructors and minority students create a since of belonging which leads to student success. Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) stated that students will persist until completion regardless of their academic predictions if they are successfully integrated into the campus organization.

Lack of Nurturing

Minority college students, especially Hispanic students, continue to perform at very low academic levels. Recommendations from many such studies on minority students for strategies to increase the success rate of this population include additional counseling/academic advising, informal faculty student contact, and diversity and multiculturalism programs. Kraft (1991) and Nettles, Thoeny, and Gosman (1986) stated that many minority students who had little contact with their professors felt that race was the underlining reason. Furthermore, students contended that faculty/staff members were not open to their academic or personal concerns, open to interact with them with regard to their coursework.

To improve the lack of nurturing concerns, Perna et al. (2003) suggested that the following steps must be followed: (a) Counseling/academic advising: Both college administrators and students have a role to play in ensuring academic success. Colleges must have regular, ongoing meetings with students on a regular basis during their college life. Students’ participation and willingness to work closely with college advisors is vital to identify academic difficulties before it is too late. In addition, Richardson and Skinner (1992) confirmed that “Counseling services must provide support for students in terms of social needs and career counseling and be accessible to students” (p. 109). Students will overcome the lack of nurturing barrier if they meet their counselor/advisors face to face rather than using computers as the main method of communication.; (b) Informal faculty-student contact: Colleges should be encouraged to create an environment in which faculty members and students should feel free and comfortable to address mutual concerns. These meetings should result in “building trust, support, and motivation during the college experience” (Perna et al., 2003, p. 103). Informal meetings with student outside of the classroom that includes additional help with projects, dialogue on issues that are related academically/socially, and involvement in extra curriculum activities may result in students feeling nurtured. Minority students who are nurtured have higher self-confidence, and clearer pathways regarding their future.; and (c) Diversity and multiculturalism: Colleges that embrace cultural differences and multiculturalism do better in attracting and keeping a diverse student population. Astin (1993) and Justiz (1994) stated that institutions of higher education that promoted diversity and multiculturalism increased students’ motivation and skills.

Lack of Presence

A substantial difference exists between the minority student enrollment in higher education and the percentage of minority faculty members who teach in these institutions. Students of color will be motivated and encouraged if they see higher representation of minorities among faculty and staff members. Rifkin (2008)pointed out that positive role models create a stronger support system for minority students, and the presence of minority faculty and staff members is critical because they could present new opportunity for minority students to learn about new ideas.

As mentioned earlier, the interaction between student and faculty is critical. Students need to feel that minority faculty and staff members are committed to their goals and success. Researchers (e.g., Perna et al., 2003) have indicated that social assimilation of students is imperative to present toward academic achievement. Increasing the presence of minority faculty and staff members at colleges and universities will bring more cultural and social interaction campus wide. “It is essential that minority administrators are hired in decision making positions that are not restricted to minority concerns” (Rodriguez, Guido-DiBrito, Torres, & Talbot, 2000, p. 523).


The primary concern for students of color is the lack of financial resources. Related to financial resources are concerns of: (a) federal and private student loans, (b) insufficient monies for living expenses, (c) part-time employment, and (d) uncertainty about the amount of financial aid assistance. Minority students need stronger financial aid support from colleges and universities to enable them to persist until graduation. These needs mean that colleges and universities need to allocate more financial aid assistance to minority students through grants and scholarships, and to decrease the student loan amount. This process will increase student success, reduce stress connected with financial challenges by enabling students to reduce their work hours and spend more time attending class and studying. Researchers (e.g., St. John & Noell, 1996) have noted that students of color who receive various types of financial assistance are 15% more likely to matriculate through college until completion.

Financial aid is a critical component to student persistence. Among low-income students, many are minority students who would not continue their education without some form of financial aid. Researchers (e.g., Perna et al., 2003) have documented that retention of minority students is directly linked to the availability of grants and scholarships, work-study opportunities, and entrance counseling for student loans. Astin (1982) and the U. S. General Accounting Office (1995) pointed out that grants and scholarships encourages student persistence more than do federal and private student loans. Because of the limited amount of money students receive from grants and scholarships, student loans and work-study programs have been advocated to increase the retention rate in higher education. Colleges must develop programs that will attract and retain disadvantaged students of color, who are typically low income.


For minority students to succeed, they must be knowledgeable about and take action on the four barriers of: (a) discontinuity, (b) lack of nurturing, (c) lack of presence, and (d) resources. As discussed in this article, we believe that Padilla’s (1998) theoretical framework of The Local Model of Successful Minority Students is supported by the extant literature. The mission of community colleges is to serve their communities and meet the needs of their students. Because of their geographic accessibility, open-door admission policies, and affordable tuition, community colleges continues to attract a diverse group of students. Community colleges offer minority students a better opportunity to gain economic success so that they can contribute to the society (American Association of Community Colleges, 2004). Researchers who have conducted retention studies on students of color have indicated that it is not only the educational institution’s responsibility to ensure success, but also the responsibilities of others (e.g., students, family, school administrators, faculty members, and staff) to ensure student success. Lack of education among students of color will continue to create inequality within the workforce in the United States.

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