Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Andrea Beach, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Donna Talbot, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Deveta Gardner, Ph.D.


Academic readiness, African American students, Black students, college students, Critical Race Theory, student retention


African American students’ completion of post-secondary education is among the lowest of any other subgroup in higher education (Banks & Dohy, 2019; Broom, 2018; Carter- Francique et al., 2015; Cokley et al., 2016; Dulabaum, 2016; Karkouti, 2016; Moragne-Patterson & Barnett, 2017; Strayhorn, 2017). This study focuses on addressing this problem by exploring the academic and social experiences of African American college students who persisted at a regional predominantly White institution (PWI) in the Midwest and secure information that can be used to improve their graduation rates.

To address this issue, this study is designed to explore initiatives and practices that encourage the successful matriculation and graduation of African American students from PWIs (Gross & Berry, 2016). This study utilized individual interviews in a qualitative inquiry to capture the lived experiences and deeper understandings of eight African American students who persisted through to their third year in college.

Additionally, Marcia's theory of academic identity (2002) and critical race theory (CRT) were used as lenses to better explore the experiences of the participants (Hiraldo, 2019). Marcia’s four identity statuses suggests how young adults will cope with adversity, make decisions about a vocational path, and how they negotiate the use of strategies as college students: Identity Achievement, Identity Moratorium, Identity Foreclosure, and Identity Diffusion.

A critical race perspective highlights the assumption of how race and racism are embedded in the normal practices of higher educational institutions (Harper et al., 2018; Hiraldo, 2019; Patton et al., 2007). Patton (2016) utilizes CRT as a tool to disrupt the academic prose in higher education and offers three propositions to reveal educational inequity and racism/White supremacy. The first proposition argues how higher educational institutions in the United States were built and subsidized on the brutal oppression and enslavement of Africans and North American Indigenous populations. The second proposition states how higher education serves as an example of the complex relationship with race, property, and oppression. Lastly, the third proposition contends higher education is the primary locus where knowledge that shapes government and industry is produced.

I engaged in semi-structured interviews with 8 African American students at a midwestern PWI. Initial analysis of the data yielded three emergent themes: (a) The Centrality of Family Expectations and Support (b) Gaps in the College Support System and (c) The Role of Students’ Self-analysis of their Preparation for College. The family expectations and support theme are comprised of two sub-themes: role model “assignment” and parental influence. Finally, many of the students reflected on their belief they lacked the needed preparation for the rigors of college.

The findings from this research suggest how important it is for practitioners and researchers, whose primary focus are African American students, to continue to design initiatives and research highlighting their stories of success. This positive realignment, in practice and research, is essential to mitigating dismal experiences that hinder the success of African American students who seek a better life for themselves, and their families, by attending a range of postsecondary institutions.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access