Retention Rate for African American Females: A Research Proposal

Subject: History
Pages: 15
Words: 3958
Reading time:
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Study level: PhD

Introduction: Education for African American Women in XXI Century

Research Topic: Education Issues for African American Women

The XXI century has opened a plethora of education related opportunities to a range of people. Since it is practically impossible to get a good job without a degree, the significance of new education options is quite understandable. However, African American women at the age of forty to fifty neglect the chances to update their knowledge and skills, although their careers would obviously benefit from it. Therefore, the research topic can be identified as stating the key reasons for forty-to-fifty-year-old African American women to ignore the education opportunities that could help them advance in their career.

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Research Questions: What Needs to be Explored

In order to come up with suggestions concerning the improvement of 40–50-year-old African American women’s academic performance regarding higher education, several questions will need to be answered. It will be reasonable to start with a general question concerning the problem.

  • Does a family background affect African American women of forty to fifty years continue their education in order to obtain a degree?

Next, it will be required to examine the attitudes among African American women towards higher education, as well as their chances for getting a degree.

  • What makes African American women consider themselves not start enough to continue their education and become qualified specialists with better options in terms of employment and career?

Furthermore, it will be crucial to understand what makes African American women consider their academic chances low/high.

  • What patterns of academic performance do African American women learn as young girls? How do these patterns affect their further academic progress, and are there any ways in which these patterns can be changed?

When considering the factors that have affected the rates of retention among African American female students over forty, one should also take the major historical events, which may have shaped specific education related traditions within the African American community, into account. Seeing how the notorious discrimination issue, which has affected the retention rates to a considerable extent, as the review below will show, was preceded by the era of slavery, it is logical to suggest that the latter has something to do with the research problem. Therefore, it will be reasonable to add the forth question to the range of issues that need further research:

  • Does the era of slavery have anything to do with the idea of education that the present day African American women in their forties have about their academic options? Have the eras of the WWI and WWII had any influence on the parents’ idea of education options for their African American daughters, who are now 40–50 years old? Are there any ways to change the traditions for attitudes towards education that emerged in African American communities due to historical events?

Literature Review: What Recent Researches Have to Say

Retention rates among African American women

As it has been stressed above, the number of African American female students that decide to pursue their career when reaching the age of forty is rapidly declining. In the light of the opportunities that modern information technology allows for, including distanced education, the given phenomenon seems rather strange. Likewise, retention rates among the women who manage to enroll in higher educational establishments after reaching the age of forty (the dependent variable) are deplorable, since the challenges that “Black female doctoral students experience and potentially face as new faculty in academe” (Jones, Wilder & Osborn-Lampkin, 2013, p. 326) are very complex. It should be noted, though, that a slight improvement could be observed from 1997 to 2007: “Between 1997 and 2007, the number of Black female doctorate recipients increased from 60% to 66%” (Jones, Wilder & Osborn-Lampkin, 2013, p. 326).

It is quite remarkable that African American students of all ages are also underrepresented in the realm of gifted education as well: “African American students are not proportionately represented in gifted education programs” (Ford, Scott & Trotman, 2011, p. 240). The given detail shows that, while female students clearly face a range of specific issues in the studying process, the existing system (the independent variable) puts obstacles for African American students in general, no matter what their age or gender is.

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Weirdly enough, recent researches showed that “African American women had higher internal career aspirations than Caucasian women” (Booth & Myers, 2011, p. 19). Therefore, there are considerable chances that, after defining the key obstacles standing in the way of African American female students’ successful education, one can possibly facilitate the latter the environment in which Black women in their forties and fifties will be able to continue their academic progress and obtain a Master or a Bachelor diploma (the independent variable).

Cultural, economic and financial factors affecting the issue

There is no need to stress the fact that many people nowadays cannot afford high education. The prices for courses that provide students with the required skills and knowledge are very high, which leaves the learners with a dilemma of choosing either education or financial stability.

Unfortunately enough for African American women, obtaining a degree is also fraught with serious health complexities, as the recent researches show. According to the study conducted by Tooru Nemoto and Mariko Iwamoto, women of color “are at high risk for adverse health outcomes because of racial/ethnic minority status” (Nemoto, Bödeker & Iwamoto, 2011, p. 1980).

Defining the dependent variable, or the key reasons for African American women to reject an opportunity to acquire new knowledge and ignore the chances for obtaining high education as they reach the age of forty or fifty, one must mention the fact that the current education system is very flawed, the flaws being the independent variables. In other words, these are not only the issues within the African American community, or the racial prejudice, but also the imperfections within the education system itself that create the premises for African American women to ignore the chances that the current policies provide them with. In fact, the flaws of high education are not of as great essence as the disadvantages of school education are; according to the research carried out to consider the challenges of the U.S. special and standard school education for the Black population, “even with all these legal mandates and impositions, African American learners continue to experience inadequate and inequitable general and special education services” (Obiakor, Beachum & Harris, 2010, p. 425).

Therefore, it can be assumed that the problems of African American women shaping a negative idea of the U.S. education system start at the earliest stages of starting their academic life. The research carried out by the authors mentioned above shows clearly that African American students are often discouraged with the specifics of the American education during the very first years of their academic experience (Obiakor, Beachum & Harris, 2010). The lack of diversity in a range of American schools, together with the inability of the teachers to address the needs of the African American students, which are predisposed by the cultural specifics of the children, result in the latter being genuinely disappointed with their experience. More to the point, the academic failure convinces the students that their learning abilities are well below average. As a result, a range of African American students grow up to believe that they are incapable of learning the school material efficiently.

Hence, another reason for African American women to drop out of high educational establishments both in their youth and in their forties or fifties is that these women have rather low opinions of their intellect and academic abilities. It is obvious that the education system that is currently adopted in the United States does not create a favorable environment for the African American girls to acquire new skills and train these skills efficiently; far from it, the current system makes them feel uncertain about their abilities and intellect, which leads to the fear of failure as these girls grow into young women. Without proper encouragement either from their mentors, of from their family, African American women cannot fight their fears even as they reach the age of forty, thus, abandoning the idea of ever continuing their education, receiving a degree and being able to become professionals, thus, experiencing both a career growth and a personal growth.

A retrospect into the history of African American education

It should be noted that the reasons for African American women to be unwilling to pursue high education should also be sought in the traditional patterns that have been reinforced by the students’ parents and are, therefore, generally accepted as the only possible ones. For example, Lisa Levenstein stresses that at the end of 50s and in the early 60s, the emphasis was on pursuing financial stability; as a result, African American women had no opportunity to invest into their education and sought for affordable jobs instead (Levenstein, 2012, p. 31). Projecting their feeling of financial insecurity onto their children, the female students of the 60s discourage their children from academic advances as well. As a result, young African American women follow the pattern of their mothers without realizing what opportunities they miss.

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Discussing the patterns that the present day African American women may have inherited from their parents, one must mention the shocking discrimination rates among the students and teachers in the U.S. high education establishments in 1950s and 60s. Although a range of measures had been taken by the people promoting equality, “the increasingly overt and stifling forms of discrimination” (Wiggins & Wiggins, 2011, p. 321) were still a major obstacle in providing the African American population, especially women, with the chances to get a decent education. Consequently, it can be assumed that, failing at getting a degree in their youth, African American parents affect the academic choices of their children, even though the latter are in their forties themselves.

One might argue that the roots for the problem to stem from are hidden much deeper, and the reasons for the African American women in their forties and fifties to be discouraged from pursuing education should be sought in the era of slavery and oppression of the XIX century. True, racial profiling and discrimination have been triggered by the years of slavery; however, considering slavery as the key to understanding the reasons for present day African American women in their forties to refuse from using their educational options would be quite a stretch. Indeed, while slavery affected both men and women of color, these are mostly women that refuse from obtaining degree, as recent researches claim (Bynum, 2011). Therefore, linking slavery to the issue in question directly would be quite a stretch. However, one must admit that years of slavery and oppression led to discrimination, which, in its turn, shaped attitudes towards high education among African American people. Therefore, the relation between the two phenomena can be considered rather loose. In other words, the education system that is currently adopted in the United States creates the premises for infringement of African American students’ rights, particularly, the right to receive basic skills and knowledge.

Among the major historical events that have affected the attitudes among African American community towards the idea of high education, the World War II should also be listed. After facing the poverty and devastation that emerged in 1939–1945 and continued years later, African American people switched their priorities towards enhancing their financial status by avoiding unemployment and picking the jobs that did not require years of studying: “African American women’s daily struggles to secure assistance from public institutions do not appear in most scholarship on civil rights in the urban North” (Levenstein, 2012, p. 31).

Education for African American women in the U.S.: background factors

The factor mentioned above, i.e., the racial profiling resulting from the years of slavery and oppression, create the premises for African American young women to be raised in the family background, which does not encourage them for obtaining high education in the least. It can be assumed that the close link between a mother and her daughter within the African American community plays its role in the development of specific educational patterns in young women, which becomes very hard to get rid of for these women as they reach the age of forty or fifty. According to the recent studies, the mother projects her concept of self and, therefore, her ideas regarding a woman’s role in society and the possible behavioral patterns from early childhood: “there is a reciprocal interplay between the mother’s self-system and the infant” (Fouquier, 2011, pp. 146–147). More to the point, even in the contemporary society, where a woman is capable of making her own choice between a family and a career, she depends greatly on the values and principles that her mother was guided by when pursuing her education related goals: “She moves from learning the expectations of the role to following the rules and directives of others and mimicking the mothering behaviors of role models” (Fouquier, 2011, p. 147). Thus, both parents and the society impose a particular role on an average African American woman, and, unfortunately enough, there is little place for education and self-development in this role. More importantly, the study shows that, to break the “vicious circle” or passing her lack of academic enthusiasm to their own daughters, African American women will need role models, which they can follow in order to get rid of the behavioral patterns that they have learned from their mothers and that have been imposed onto them by society.

In addition, the fact that racial discrimination used to shape the attitudes towards African Americans in the XX century is also not to be ignored:

Over the course of the last hundred years, the United States has moved from early twentieth-century public schools in which racist laws required separate education for African American and white students to twenty-first century public schools that have different racial inequity problems. (Bynum, 2011, p. 17)

Moreover, some scholars claim that even in the United States of the XXI century, racial profiling still exists and affects the relationships between African American students and the students of other descents, as well as between African American students and teachers: “Sadly, as a nation, the United States has not been able to answer ‘yes’ to the question of whether African American students have been accorded with human right to education as defined by international human rights documents” (Bynum, 2011, p. 17).

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It would be wrong to assume that the problem has never been addressed; quite on the contrary, the issue of African American students and women in particular refusing from continuing their academic progress has been viewed through both social and cultural lens a number of times; however, the studies that have been carried out have had little effect so far. For example, the recent experiment concerning the introduction of counseling services into the education system in order to address the problem of the African American students’ retention rates has shown that African American students experience a lot of pressure coming from both the fact that they are a minority among the rest of the students enrolling into a doctoral program, and the fact that they are going to be financially restrained in the course of studying: “Unlike White students enrolled in doctoral programs, African American students attending doctoral programs at PWIs encounter the added pressure of being a numeric minority within these predominantly White learning environments” (Henfield, Owens & Witherspopon, 2011, p. 227). As a result, the number of African American students deciding to enroll into the program and continue their academic progress was rather small: “Despite statistics detailing African American students’ presence in doctoral programs, literature related of their personal experience is relatively scant” (Henfield, Owens & Witherspopon, 2011, p. 227). Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that the program promoted by the researchers has had its doubtless effect and helped increase retention rates among African American students (Henfield, Owens & Witherspopon, 2011). According to the research results, with little support coming from their families, as well as the lack of information concerning the patterns that one must follow in order to become an excellent student, African Americans, especially, women, are in desperate need for a role model to follow. Needless to say, the research was carried out among relatively young students, which means that for 40–50-year-old African American women, a slightly different approach should be used – perhaps, the role model should also be within the specified age range, and with a specific background, such as a specific marital status, a certain social background, etc. Therefore, it can be assumed that the program can also be used when attracting more female students in their forties and fifties, of an African American descent, into the realm of high education. It should be born in mind, though, that the experiment carried out by the researchers took place among relatively young students; therefore, the factors that are of great concern for African American women of 40–50 years old were not the issue in the research. Consequently, when designing courses for the target audience, one will have to keep the social factors in mind as well.

Hypotheses: Developing Viable Solutions

Null hypothesis: family issues

As it has been stressed above, it was originally suggested that the key reason for Black women to refuse from obtaining a degree is related to the social pressure that they experience from the members of the community, i.e., the necessity to follow the standard pattern of a family life. In other words, it is suggested that modern African American women of 40–50 years old have too many household chores and responsibilities to afford spending time on education, even though they could profit from the latter by updating their skills and knowledge and, thus, having better promotion chances.

Alternative hypothesis: cultural factors

As the review of the relevant literature has shown, here is more to the concept of higher education significance within the African American communities than merely unwillingness to work in the environment that lacks diversity drastically. It can be assumed that the lack of belief in their own abilities and intelligence, which African American women seem to suffer from, comes from not only the disadvantages of the modern education system and the strong concept of a woman’s social and family role, which does not include academic and career advancement, but also from years of oppression, which the lack of parental support for such students and the students’ unwillingness to believe in their own abilities, strengths and assets can be explained by. Although the relation between the notorious era of slavery and the XXI century problem of African American women missing their education opportunities might seem rather vague, it, in fact, explains a number of obstacles that have emerged in the way of African American female students in their forties and fifties.

Variables and the Relations between Them

Dependent variables: retention rates

The object of the research remains consistently the same. As it was explained in previous papers, the retention rates among African American women of 40–50 years are explored, and the reasons for these rates to remain low even in the XXI century are stated.

Independent variables: new factors

As the literature review provided above has shown, the range of variables has been increased, with a number of new elements being included. Among the dependent variables, not only the family issues that may have affected the academic progress of African American women in their forties and fifties have been redefined, but also a range of other elements of the education environment have been spotted. Among the most important ones, the questionable influence of the slavery era, the years of racial profiling, the pressure of the social norms and the fear for not being able to complete the course – or, to be more exact, the fear for not being intelligent enough to complete the course – should be listed. Therefore, traditions, acceptance of social roles and self-esteem issues should be researched closer.

Research Methods: A Quantitative Study

Participant selection

The participants for the research will be selected from the local African American community, as well as the students and teachers from my university. Thus, it will be possible to consider the viewpoints of both the African American women who have failed in their education related endeavors, and those, who have succeeded.

Data collection

The data will be collected with the help of a questionnaire provided in the appendix (Appendix A). The questionnaire was constructed so that both the background factor and the effects of the key social events that have occurred over the course of the U.S. history (i.e., slavery era, the racial discrimination epoch, etc.) on the academic aspirations of African American women of 40–50 years should be visible when analyzing the answers of the respondents. Therefore, it will be reasonable to not only calculate the answers to the multiple choice questions according to their frequency, but also take the answers to general questions into account as well and analyze these answers separately.

Survey design

The survey contains six multiple-choice questions concerning the participants’ background and education. There are also two general questions, which help state the participant’s marital status and self image. Finally, the questionnaire includes three multiple choice questions with the field that can be filled out by the participant. Thus, every possible scenario can be embraced to make the research objective.

Data evaluation

Each survey will be considered with the achievements of the person filling it out in mind. The rates of African American women, who continued their academic progress, as well as those who failed to, will be calculated in regard to their marital status and family background.

Research Design Discussion: Why Choosing a Quasi-experimental Model

Seeing how the study in question is based on an experiment, with a questionnaire being the key tool for data acquisition, an experimental model seems an obvious choice (Cozby & Bates, 2012). However, it should be kept in mind that in the given research, it is crucial that the effects of the changes that the experiment participants will be going through should be measured, so that the solution to be proposed could have a tangible effect on the academic endeavors of African American women.

Discussion: An Overview of the Case

Research validity

Unfortunately, in the given setting, providing research randomization will be quite problematic. However, it should be noted that some of the research participants are going to come from not only the university, but also from other locations. Thus, research validity will be provided.

Strengths and weaknesses

The research in question has its strong and weak aspects. The strength of the research lies in the fact that the problem is viewed from several perspectives, including the present day issues and the historical events that might have had an impact. The main weakness of the research is that it will embrace only a relatively small amount of participants. Thus, its objectiveness may suffer.

Ethical considerations

For the research to be carried out in accordance with key ethical principles, it will be necessary to maintain anonymity of the participants. Thus, participants will have nicknames (e.g., Anne M., Stacy N., etc.).

Conclusion: Improving Retention Rates among African American Women of 40–50 Is Possible

Despite the fact that for a woman in her forties or fifties, acquiring new information and learning new skills is quit problematic, African American female students over the age of 40 must have an opportunity to excel in their career and learn valuable skills. However, the rates of Black women graduating with a degree successfully at the age of 40–50 are declining rapidly. By conducting a careful analysis of the situation, one can possibly suggest the means to improve the situation.

Reference

Booth, C. S. & Myers, J. E. (2011). Differences in career and life planning between African American and Caucasian undergraduate women. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 39(1), 14–23.

Bynum, G. B. (2011). Kant’s conception of respect and African American education rights. Educational Theory, 61(1), 17–40.

Cozby, P. & Bates, S. (2012). Methods in behavioral research (11th ed). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Ford, D. Y., Scott, J. L., & Trotman, M. T. (2011). Key theories and frameworks for improving the recruitment and retention of African American students in gifted education. The Journal of Negro Education, 80(3), 239–438.

Fouquier, K. F. (2011). The concept of motherhood among three generations of African American women. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 43(2), 145–153.

Henfield, M. S., Owens, D. & Witherspopon, S. (2011). African American students in counselor education programs: Perceptions of their experiences. Counselor Education and Supervision, 50(4), 226–242.

Jones, T. B., Wilder, J. A. & Osborn-Lampkin, La’T. (2013). Employing a Black feminist approach to doctoral advising: Preparing Black women for the professoriate. The Journal of Negro Education, 82(3), 326–338.

Levenstein, L. (2012). African American women and the politics of poverty in the postwar Philadelphia. Magazine of History, 26(1), 31–35.

Nemoto, T., Bödeker, B. & Iwamoto, M. (2011). Social support, exposure to violence and transphobia, and correlates of depression among male-to-female transgender women with a history of sex work. American Journal of Public Health, 101(10), 1980–1988.

Obiakor, F., Beachum, F. D. & Harris, M. K. (2010). African America students’ experience with special education in Milwaukee public schools. Western Journal of Black Studies, 13(4), 425–437.

Wiggins, D. K. & Wiggins, B. P. (2011). Striving to be in the profession and of it: The African American experience in physical education and kinesiology. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82(2), 320–333.

Appendix A: Survey Questions and Multiple Choice Answers

Choose the options that describe your family background:

  1. Two-parent family
  2. Single mother
  3. Single father
  4. Divorced parents
  5. Parent death
  6. Brother
  7. Sister
  8. 2–3 siblings
  9. More than 3 siblings

Your parents’ income can be defined as:

  1. Low
  2. Middle
  3. High

Your family educational background can be described as:

  1. Both parents have (had) a high school/university diploma;
  2. One parent has (had) a high school/university diploma;
  3. Neither of the parents (have) completed their higher education course;
  4. All of your siblings have a high school/university diploma;
  5. Some of your siblings have a high school/university diploma (state the number: ___ out of ___)

If some of your family members never got a diploma, what were the reasons?

  1. They were too busy with their family lives;
  2. They were discouraged by the rates of discrimination and lack of diversity in the college/university;
  3. They did not consider themselves smart enough;
  4. Other: ________________________________________________________________________________

Describe your parents’ attitude towards your academic progress when you studied at school (choose the options that suit your situation):

  1. They encouraged me and praised me for every accomplishment;
  2. They wanted me to deliver top results and punished me for receiving bad marks;
  3. They never attended parent meetings;
  4. They attended parent meetings regularly;
  5. They never cared about my academic progress or the lack thereof.

Are you married?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. No, but I have a partner
  4. Divorced

Do you consider yourself smart?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Why do you consider yourself smart/not smart?

  1. My parents told me so;
  2. My husband told me so;
  3. My friends told me so;
  4. My teachers told me so;
  5. I had poor grades at school;
  6. I am a fast/slow thinker.

Do you want to learn more?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Do you have a high school, college or university diploma?

  1. Yes
  2. No, but I want one
  3. No, and I do not want one

If you answered “no” to the previous question, what are the reasons why you have not yet obtained a diploma?

  1. Lack of money
  2. Lack of support
  3. Other: _______________________________

Would you like to continue your education, and why?

  1. Yes, because I need it to have a better job and earn more money
  2. Yes, because I want people to recognize me as a well-read and intelligent person
  3. Yes, because both of my parents/all my family members have a Master/Bachelor degree;
  4. Other: _________________________________________________________________________________