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Student integration and engagement have been researched for many years, and numerous researchers have offered numerous recommendations on their effects and the need to address the stark academic success gap between majority and minority groups in the US. For researchers, the attrition of non-traditional students has been a key worry (Bailey & Alfonso, 2015). In the early 1980s, it was discovered that among all college students, regardless of level, African American males were the most adversely affected group when it came to attrition. In order to fight this problem, studies have been developed to examine the situation, and most have shown that academic success lies in the student ability and willingness to socially and academically adjust to the life and environment of the institution (Bailey & Alfonso, 2015). It has been shown that when students can positively adapt to the life and setting of the institution, they are likely to remain in their program and eventually graduate with the desired grades.
Today, a large portion of non-traditional students (white, African and Latinos) enroll in predominantly white colleges (PWIs). This trend began in the late twentieth century, in which data from the center for statistics in Department of Education indicated that, almost over four out of five Black learners were enrolled in white college and university institutions (Kincey, 2007). According to Grabowski, et al., (2016) the number of Hispanic, African American, Asian, and American Indians increased between 1976 and 2012 by 11, 5, 4 and 0.2 percent respectively. The increased enrolment of non-traditional students (whites, African, and Latinos) in white institutions is as a result of several factors. First, the large number of PWIs means that there will always be a large number of non-traditional male students enrolling for higher education. Second, the increasing enrolment of African Americans is attributed to increased accessibility of African Americans to postsecondary institutions (Chavous, 2002; Conrad & Gasman, 2015). Many initiatives that include the National Defense Student Loan (NDSL) and the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) have been implemented that allow a large number of African American students to get the financial support required to enroll in colleges and universities. Also, the provision of grants and direct loans to non-traditional students from low-income families by programs in education sector that include Basic Equal Education Opportunity, has also allowed for more of these students to secure college admissions and enrolment. The Executive Order 11375 (1967) also contributes to this increased enrolment of non-traditional students since it reinforced the recruitment, admission, retention, and graduation of underrepresented groups in the society to higher education institutions, both undergraduate and graduate levels (Kincey, 2007).
According to Williams (2016), social integration is the existence of relationships between members of a given institution, community or society as evidenced by observable social networking. In institutions of higher learning, student integration refers to the involvement of learners with other members of their school, including colleagues, faculty, members, department members, and members of other areas within the school environment. A quantitative study by Tinto (2002) found that students who interact with faculty members outside the class as well as with colleagues inside and outside the class have a high probability of retention as well as graduation with desired grades. In an empirical study with student samples, Kuh (2001) found that students, who develop positive relationships with faculty members, as well as colleagues, had powerful influences on personal social and academic experiences. Also, Kuh stated that time and energy that learners usually dedicate to educational activities as well as how they perceive different aspects of the institutional environment dramatically facilitates learning.
Scholarly work shows that non-traditional students in PWIs are the best group that should be molded to ensure achievement from social and academic integration, which has been suggested as a possible and potential solution to the high attrition rate. Most of the researchers that have attempted to examine this area have applied Vincent Tintos interactionalist theory. As such, it is essential to review what the theory states and why it is crucial to guide studies on social integration in higher education.
Tintos interactionalist theory, developed in the 1970s and reviewed several times in the years that followed, states that whether a learner continues or drops out of school is determined by the degree of an individual's academic and social interaction. According to this theory, the communication evolves as both commitment and integration interact (Braxton, Milem, & Sullivan, 2014). Tinto further argues that measuring the level of academic integration requires one to consider such factors as academic achievement, interpersonal development, academic self-esteem, subject enjoyment, how they identify with norms and values in academics as well as a person's role as a student in that institution. On the other hand, social integration is measured by considering such factors as the number of friends a student has in that institution, personal contact with academics and enjoyment of a person for being in the institution.
Tinto was careful to differentiate between the types of attrition. In particular, the theory shows that attrition due to other reasons than voluntary leaving is not one of the aspects needed when determining the relationship between dropping out and the level of integration. In other studies following his initial work, Tinto has added additional features in the interactionalist theory. In particular, Tintos 1993 study developed a relatively new model in which four primary conditions essential to engagement and attrition were added- support, involvement, feedback, and expectations (Braxton, Milem, & Sullivan, 2014). According to this model, students are likely to remain in the program and be engaged in a setting where there is a clear expectation of their succession. Every student wants to know what to expect and the requirements of succeeding. As such, the university and the respective departments are urged to hold their students to high expectations. Secondly, students are likely to be engaged if they have the pedagogical experience that encourages academic as well as social support (Braxton, Milem, & Sullivan, 2014). Again, it is the role of the institution and its departments to ensure that academic support is provided and carefully administered by the administration and that it aligns with the classroom instruction (Tinto, 2013). Third, students who are actively engaged with the university life, colleagues, faculty, staff, and activities are likely to remain in the academy and graduate with the desired grades. Ultimately, Tintos model shows that early academic warning systems, as well as mid-semester or midterm grade reporting, are vital since they can be provided to assist the learners in completing their educational journey with success (Braxton, Milem, & Sullivan, 2014).
Various researchers have used Tinto's model to describe the reason why the non-traditional students have a higher attrition rate than their white colleagues. In a quantitative study, Defour and Hirsch (1990) found that African American learners with a high degree of social integration into their programs were less likely to drop out of school. A study by Gardner (2005) also found that students were more likely to graduate with desired grades if social involvement was present. Additional studies by Braxton, Milem, and Sullivan (2014) have also found that these concepts and observations are familiar to other minority groups, including the Latinos, Hispanics, and White Americans. It is suggested that male students from the traditionally underrepresented groups could also benefit from social and academic integration and their attrition rate reduced significantly.
The social experience and interaction of African American male students at PWIs are different as compared to that of white learners and dissimilar to Black women. The Black male students have an experience that is uniquely theirs in these institutions. The African Americans in PWIs say that they feel higher ratings of discrimination, while the African American learners at predominantly Black institutions state that they experience better relationships with faculty members as compared to those at white college settings (Yancy Sr, 2015). When the non-traditional students are faced with rejection or exclusion at the PWIs, particularly by their immediate peers and faculty members, they develop a feeling of being intellectually devalued. They then start seeking for more accepting and supportive environments; hence drop out to enroll in other institutions or seek the company of other Black students. In these while, college settings, the cohesiveness, and solidarity of Black male students, isolation and alienation, as well as extreme negative attitudes toward White students promoted the development of feelings of resentment.
The success rate of non-traditional male students, particularly Black male students is decreasing in universities and colleges. The low success rate is attributed to increased dropouts of Black male students in PWIs particularly in their first year, due to significant difficulties in the new and different school environment. The various challenges that the Black male students experience in their first year include culture shock, isolation and high rate of dissatisfaction. The first year Black males at these PWIs are sensitive to all disruptions they encounter because of their social background where they were the minority in the society but now they are transferring to institutions that reinforce societal classification. The Black male students can only enhance their integration in the new environment by learning to communicate with staff and faculty members, and by joining forces with other Black males to create a network; consequently leading to increase in the retention rates in this PWIs. The faculty must also contribute to the high retention by eliminating the racial tension within the school environment and also having an open door policy and dedicate equal time for both the traditional and non-traditional African students (Goings, 2016). The higher the number of Black males' students continuing sophomores will mean an increase in the number of Black male student gradations.
Scholars have shown that although sometimes the retention rates in the first semester at PWIs for Black students is estimated to be 97 percent compared to 92 percent of white students, it decreases after four semesters to about 68 percent for Black students at these PWIs compared to 72 percent of whites. Positive multicultural experiences among the African American students contribute to high retention rates. According to Furr & Elling (2002), the persistence to degree completion of African American learners at PWIs is influenced by the experiences of the students before enrolling at university.
In addition to low retention rates, the low success rate of non-traditional male students is also contributed by a poor academic performance by these students. Studies on how the race of a student influence their academic achievement by varying the college/university attended showed that at predominantly Black institutions there was no significant difference in the grades attained by the African American students and white students; however, for the same study subjects, the pattern was different at PWIs (Kincey, 2007). The African American students at PWIs had lower grades (average grade C+) as compared to the white students (average grade B-); whereas at predominantly Black institutions the average grade for both groups was B. Studies on the academic performance of the Latino student population indicated no significant difference between those enrolled in PWIs and those in HBCUs (Lopez, 2016).
Social and academic integration influence the persistence of non-traditional male students in white colleges and universities. Social integration in college includes being able to join clubs and groups, to make close friends, have informal interactions freely with staff, and participate in extracurricular activities in school; while academic integration includes good academic performance, having frequent communications with advisors, and participation in study groups. For a student to persist in college, they should be able to adjust, both intellectually and socially, to the school environment.
In a study to examine the variations among students who took part in track and field athletics, academic and social integration by race determined that white Americans had higher rates in social integration as compared to Black students (Lyons, 2007). It also showed a difference of academic integration between white Americans and African Americans in colleges. The integration of the white Americans was enhanced by positive experiences and interactions on Campus. In a campus environment, benefits that occur in the aspect of social relationships with staff and faculty, relations with peers, and increased social opportunities lead to enhanced social congruence. When a student realizes these benefits, they develop a positive interaction between institutional social system as well as goal commitment that promote higher levels of social integration.
Various scholars have studied the difference between the likelihood of students from varying races to graduate in white institutions. In these white college settings, whites and Asians are more likely to graduate as compared to African Americans. In addition, the African Americans are more likely to graduate in the same colleges as compared to Hispanics and American Indians (McDonald, 2011).
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Furr, S. R., & Elling, T. W. (2002). African-American students in a predominantly-white university: Factors associated with retention. College Student Journal, 36(2), 188-203.
Goings, R. B. (2016). Supporting high-achieving nontraditional Black male undergraduates: Implications for theory, policy, and practice. Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals, 4(1).
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Yancy Sr, S. W. (2015). The Retention of First Year Black Male Students at Predominately White Private and Public Universities and Colleges. Outskirts Press.
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