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Achieving Student Success for African American Males
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T)—a public Historically Black University in Greensboro, North Carolina—was guided by Preeminence 2020 (its strategic plan) and the University of North Carolina’s Fostering Undergraduate Student Success Policy as it refocused its plan for improving undergraduate student success and achievement. A prominent component of this refocusing was the redesign and implementation of a more holistic academic advising model beginning fall 2016. Academic advising is a core function of the university and requires an intentional culture of promoting lifelong learning and empowering students to make sound academic, professional, and personal decisions. In addition, being a university that is designated as a Historically Black College or University, equity issues may be markedly different from Predominantly White Institutions. However, the student population that faces similar issues on both types of campuses is African American males. Low retention and completion rates for this population are among the most critical issues in higher education, and this issue is reflected on our campus. While the success of all students is paramount, the 129 African American males in our male retention program, Project MARCH (Male Aggies Resolved to Change History) became a focus as we aimed to reframe their experiences on campus. This article describes the implementation of the new advising model and high-impact practices as they relate to our African American male population.
Academic Advising Continuum
The mission of NCA&T’s refocused academic advising structure is to create a shared holistic advising continuum aimed at equipping students with success skills and learning support to be academically, professionally, and personally successful. Another integral focus of the restructuring is to utilize academic advising to close retention gaps and improve graduation rates for African American male students. Under this structure, students have two academic advisors, a faculty advisor in their academic department and an academic coach in the Center for Academic Excellence, a campus unit with four core functions: academic advising, academic monitoring, academic support, and student success.
The Student Success Advising Continuum provides each student with high-touch, high-impact academic guidance during their first-year experience at NCA&T. The continuum highlights the students’ decreasing reliance on the academic coach after their first year and increasing contact with their departmental faculty advisors. This ongoing communication ensures that students receive consistent and effective advising. Moreover, the connection between the faculty advisor and the student is an important one because the faculty advisor’s expertise within the discipline of the students’ major enables advisors to assist with many advising and support activities that will prepare students for success beyond the undergraduate experience. It also represents the transition from initial reliance on professional advisors to increased contact with faculty advisors.
Project March Male Retention Program
Project MARCH is a living learning community (LLC) housed in the Center for Academic Excellence. The LLC is focused on enhancing the academic progress of first-year minority male students and first-generation students at NCA&T. Project MARCH is also designed to help these students overcome obstacles that could keep them from progressing to their sophomore year, thus increasing their retention, persistence, and graduation rates.
Academic Advising for MARCH Participants
The new academic advising model allows African American males to develop a personal and consistent relationship with members of the campus community. Project MARCH students share a common intellectual experience through their weekly first-year seminar course, which is taught by their academic coaches. The students also meet with their faculty regarding progress toward degree and career goals. This dual advising model provides a holistic approach to providing students with the knowledge and tools for academic and career planning as well as the use of campus resources. Furthermore, formal and informal academic and social interactions between the students and academic coaches foster trustworthy relationships. To build rapport, Project MARCH academic coaches visit the LLC dormitory weekly to check-in and interact with the students. Moreover, students participate in meaningful engagement-focused student development and learning via two bimonthly programs: (1) “Let’s Talk About It” informal chat sessions, with topics such as handling emotional aspects of college life, reacting to academic and other stressors, and balancing college and personal life, and (2) the “Third Tuesday Engagement” formal workshops, with topics such as conflict resolution, goal setting, critical thinking, and learning styles. Finally, starting this fall, Project MARCH academic coaches and students will travel to the Dominican Republic for their first global learning experience.
During their second semester, Project MARCH students will engage in a shared-learning experience in a writing-intensive English course, and they will follow this with an African American studies course during their third semester. We believe that embedding these strategies and high-impact experiences within our preeminent advising model will raise student awareness of learning pathways, close retention gaps, and improve career outcomes for our African American male students.
Assessing Preeminent Advising
To support the Student Success Advising Continuum at NCA&T and its impact on African American male students, ongoing assessment is necessary to ensure that we are meeting our objectives and identifying areas for improvement. At the beginning of the academic year, freshmen take the ETS Success Navigator, an assessment designed to help colleges reach incoming students experiencing equity gaps and improve retention rates. The assessment provides student-intake information that will assist with predictive analytics for managing the freshman advising caseload. In subsequent meetings with advisees aimed at addressing the results, faculty advisors and academic coaches obtain information regarding the students’ academic goals, interests, strengths, and challenges, which ultimately helps students identify learning pathways that will yield the best results.
Academic advising is an integral component of student success. A shared advising model can be an effective way to achieve student success for all students, including marginalized groups. Preliminary findings show that the shared academic advising model has had a marked impact on student success. The number of students placed on academic warning and academic probation has decreased 36.4 percent from the 2015–16 academic year to the 2016–17 academic year. Additionally, students participating in Project MARCH had positive results, with a 4 percent decrease in the number of participants placed on academic warning and academic probation. This high-touch, high-impact model of academic advising has garnered encouraging results. While we will continue to shape and enhance this shared advising model, we feel confident that we will increase African American male retention and graduation rates.
Andrea M. Fernandez, Coordinator of Freshman Studies Courses and Academic Coach; Regina W. Davis, Assistant Provost for Student Success and Academic Support; and G. Scott Jenkins, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Programs, all of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University