Maricopa Community Colleges


2007 Nov 02

Harper Urges College Engagement with Minority Male Students

The numbers are dwindling for African American, Latino, Native American and Southeast Asian men attending American colleges and universities, but engaging members of those populations who are on campus can lead to solutions to the enrollment crisis.

That was the message from Shaun Harper, a nationally-renowned expert on Black male students in American colleges and universities, during his keynote address at the Maricopa Community Colleges’ 19th annual Student Success Conference.

Assistant Professor of Higher Education Management at the University of Pennsylvania, Harper presented The Invisible Man: The Vanishing Minority Male in Higher Education Friday, November 2. His address was part of the conference held at the Desert Willow Conference Center in Phoenix.

A published author best known for his research on Black male students on college and university campuses, Harper said the national data speaks loud and clear for men in all four population groups: they are not attending college at the same rate as women, and the numbers are going down.

In 44 of 50 states Black males are underrepresented in public universities compared to the population. Though the numbers are most striking among African American men, Harper said the numbers of Latino, Native American and Southeast Asian men are also underrepresented.

He challenged institutions of higher learning to “accept the bulk of responsibility for student success” rather than always blaming students for being underprepared. “Sometimes we place them at risk by lowering our expectations of them,” he added.

Though he was critical of some recruitment efforts for minority men because of the lack of true retention programs once they enroll, Harper said getting to know those students can help colleges and universities improve recruitment and retention for the future.

“We have to find out why men of color are disengaged from the education process,” Harper said. “It’s easy to give them a survey, but it’s more meaningful to sit with these students and hear their stories, and you have to do it more than once a year.”

“How were college-going aspirations developed for them?” he asked. “Who are they and what can they teach us?”

Harper said a number of engagement techniques are working to break down barriers, including allowing minority male students to recruit others from their population; collecting data on minority men who don’t participate in college activities; creating “engagement teams” and providing financial and advisory support; creating and supporting minority men’s student organizations; persuading them to seek student leadership positions; and hosting annual kickoff events specifically for minority males.

He also said colleges and universities “must attach resources” to recruit and support minority male students, and that inclusion and diversity must become more than good intentions on college campuses. Goals, priorities, expectations, cross-institutional collaboration, strategies and accountability must follow if such efforts are to be successful.

Dr. Shaun Harper Addresses Student Success Conference