Today’s College Students

A Reader

by Pietro A. Sasso (Volume editor) Joseph L. DeVitis (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook XII, 424 Pages


America’s undergraduates truly represent a mind-boggling diversity. Today’s College Students: A Reader looks at a wide variety of student groups and identities, which sets it apart from other texts on contemporary college students that do not cover such a broad spectrum. The editors and contributors also invite students, their instructors, and other college/university practitioners to be mindful of the crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, connection between extra-curricular campus activities and learning. Sustaining educational moments throughout the undergraduate experience, in and out of the classroom, is why colleges exist. This volume thus reminds us that both social interaction and individual critical reflection are vital collegiate processes, especially in an age of consumerism and the McDonaldization of higher education. Ultimately, the text seeks to reinforce and augment the rich diversity that can make college more rewarding for us all. It is especially useful for courses devoted to today’s college students and diversity, the multicultural university, college student development, and student affairs administration.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • References
  • Part One: Student Diversity
  • Chapter One: Historical and Contemporary Challenges Faced by African American Undergraduate Students
  • History of African American Education
  • K–12 Underpreparation and Family Background
  • Access and Enrollment
  • Persistence and Retention
  • Campus Racial Climate
  • Transfer Students
  • Achievement and Learning
  • Same-Race/Cross-Race Faculty Mentors
  • Graduation
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Two: Understanding and Meeting the Needs of Latinas/os in Higher Education
  • Latinas/os: A Growing Population
  • “The 1.5 Generation” in Higher Education
  • Historical Context of Latinas/os in Education
  • The Latina/o Student Experience
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Latina/o Student Engagement
  • Best Practices for Latina/o Students’ Success
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Native American Students in Higher Education
  • Introduction
  • General Experiences of Native American College Students
  • Being Invisible or Least Represented
  • Misconceptions and Stereotypes
  • Diversity of the Native Students and Common Experiences
  • Building Community on Campus
  • Leadership Experiences/Opportunities
  • Mentorship/Peer Mentoring
  • Historically Native American Fraternities and Sororities (HNAFSs)
  • Connecting to Native Faculty (and Allies)
  • Home-Going
  • Transitioning Back Home (Giving Back)
  • Recommendations
  • Tribes as Partners
  • Advisory Boards
  • Cultural Competency Training for Staff and Faculty
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Asian American College Students
  • Historical Context: Waves of Migration
  • Demographic Contexts: Growth, Diversity, and Inequality
  • Racial Contexts: Racial Ideologies and Racial Oppression
  • Cultural Context: Community and Campus Connections
  • Racial Realities of Asian American College Students
  • Racial Resistance Among Asian American College Students
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Today’s Asian Indian College Student
  • Immigration History of Asian Indians in the United States
  • The College Developmental Process for the Asian Indian Student
  • The Indian Student’s Family Context
  • The “Acculturation Gap”: Juggling Family and School/Self
  • Dating and Marriage
  • Major and Career
  • Model Minority Myth
  • Intersectionality of Identity
  • Indian International Students
  • Supporting Asian Indian Students
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Chapter Six: Middle Eastern College Students and Their Culture
  • Introduction
  • Cultural Factors for Middle Easterners
  • Cultural Considerations for Intervention and Support
  • Cultural Competency
  • Support-Seeking Behaviors
  • Student Adjustment
  • Attitudes About Mental Health
  • The Role of Religion
  • The College Campus Climate for Middle Easterners
  • Implications for Student Affairs Professionals
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: The Great Divides: Seven Trends That Shape the International Student Experience at U.S. Colleges and Universities
  • Seven Trends That Shape the International Student Experience
  • Community Colleges Meet the Ivies
  • Accelerating Undergraduate Enrollments
  • Ready or Not
  • Local and Global Tensions
  • The Haves and Have Nots
  • Racism, the West, and the Rest
  • Belonging Nowhere and Everywhere
  • Resilience-Based Approaches to the Acculturation Process
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part Two: Student Equality
  • Chapter Eight: Women in College: Environments and Identities
  • Setting the Context
  • College Women and the Campus Environment
  • Physical Environment
  • Human Aggregate
  • Organizational
  • Constructed Environments
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Nine: Today’s College Men: Challenges, Issues, and Successes
  • Framing the Terminology of Male and Man
  • Historical Implications for College Men
  • Who Are Today’s College Men?
  • Gender Gap in College
  • Identity Development of College Men
  • Hegemonic Masculinity
  • Davis’s Exploration of Gender Role Conflict on College Males
  • Harris’s Model of College Men’s Conceptualizations of Masculinities
  • Edwards’s Model of College Male Identity Development
  • Intersectional Approaches to Male Identity Development
  • Environmental Realities for College Men
  • Health and Well-Being of College Men
  • Programming for College Men’s Success & Development
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: Students With Disabilities: From Success to Significance
  • Disability Competency and Disability Humility
  • Students With Disabilities: A Snapshot
  • Disability Identity Development
  • Voices of Students With Disabilities: The Lived Experience
  • Respect, Human Dignity, and Self-Advocacy
  • Effective Communication
  • Ability Education
  • Supportive Frameworks: From Success to Significance
  • Ability Education Resources and Initiatives
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Privilege and Power: Identifying and Addressing Whiteness in the University Setting: Promoting a System of Success for All
  • Introduction
  • Race-Related Constructs Defined
  • Whiteness in University Settings
  • Microaggressions and the Campus Setting
  • Resilience and Solutions
  • Applying Solutions to Cases
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: LGBTQIAA: From Invisibility to Visibility: Queer-Spectrum and Trans-Spectrum College Students
  • Queer-Spectrum Identity Development
  • Cass’s Model of Sexual Orientation Identity Formation
  • Fassinger’s Model of Gay and Lesbian Identity Development
  • D’Augelli’s Model of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Development
  • Trans-Spectrum Identity Development
  • Bilodeau’s Transgender Identity Development
  • Beemyn and Rankin’s The Lives of Transgender People
  • Outcomes Related to Identity Development
  • Campus Climate for Queer-Spectrum and Trans-Spectrum Students
  • Campus Climate Within Athletics and Greek Systems
  • Classroom Climate for Queer-Spectrum and Trans-Spectrum Students
  • Influence of Climate on Queer-Spectrum and Trans-Spectrum Students’ Well-Being
  • Alcohol and Drug Use/Abuse
  • Depression and Suicide
  • Institutional Policies and Resources
  • Beyond the Rainbow
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Thirteen: First-Generation Students
  • Multiple Definitions of First-Generation Students
  • First-Generation Students
  • What Is Known About First-Generation Students
  • Forms of Capital and First-Generation Students
  • Economic Capital
  • Cultural Capital
  • Social Capital
  • Academic Capital
  • Consequences of Being First Generation
  • The Campus Context for First Generation
  • The Campus Social Class Culture
  • Examples
  • Social Status and First-Generation Students
  • First-Generation Students as Academic Outsiders
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: Privileged Access: Higher Education’s Unfulfilled Promise
  • The Hope for Social Mobility
  • Social Class Effects in U.S. Higher Education History
  • Democracy, Populism, and a New Era in Higher Education
  • Further Expansion, Contradictory Access
  • Social Class on Campus: Environments of Exclusion
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part Three: Student Life
  • Chapter Fifteen: The Typology and Needs of American Transfer Students
  • Introduction
  • Types of Transfer Students
  • The Impact of Demographics
  • Needs of Transfer Students
  • Academic Needs
  • Financial Needs
  • Psychological and Personal Needs
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Sixteen: The History of Student Life in American Higher Education
  • Introduction
  • The First American College Students
  • Diverse Institutions Created Diverse Student Needs
  • Deans of Women, Deans of Men, and Student Personnel Work
  • The Student Personnel Point of View
  • Student Life—Post-World War II
  • Student Life—2000 and Beyond
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: Fraternities and Sororities: Developing a Compelling Case for Relevance in Higher Education
  • A Case for Relevance
  • The Complexities of Involvement in Fraternities and Sororities
  • Overview of the Fraternal Movement
  • Dismantling the Vestiges of Discrimination and Elitism
  • A Focus on Values and Values Congruence
  • The Presidents’ Retreat: A Case Study
  • Recommendations for Practice
  • Level 0: Individual Student
  • Level 1: Microsystem—Fraternity/Sorority Chapter
  • Level 2: Mesosystem—Relationships Among the Chapters and Within the Institution
  • Level 3: Exosystem—Influence of (Inter)National Organizations and Governing Bodies
  • Level 4: Macrosystem—Campus Culture and Social Trends
  • Level 5: Chronosystem—Era of Undergraduate Experience
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eighteen: The Future of Spirituality in Higher Education: Becoming More Inclusive
  • Spiritual and Religious Diversity Among Today’s College Students
  • Christian and Religious Privilege
  • Becoming More Inclusive
  • Use Inclusive Language in “Spirituality” Education and Initiatives
  • Develop an “Interfaith” Approach
  • Create an Infrastructure Focused on Spirituality, Religion, and Secularity
  • Use a Developmental Model to Guide Campus Practice
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter Nineteen: Nontraditional Students: The New Traditional
  • Barriers
  • Dispositional Barriers
  • Situational Barriers
  • Institutional Barriers
  • Supports
  • Dispositional Supports
  • Situational Supports
  • Institutional Supports
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty: The Residential Experience
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Residential Experience
  • First-Generation Students
  • Low-Income Students
  • Minority Students
  • LGBTQ Students
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-One: The Student-Veteran Experience
  • Introduction
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill
  • Transition to Higher Education: Understanding the Population
  • Implications for Student Development
  • Importance of Language
  • Moving Forward
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Distance Learners: Their Challenges and Successes
  • Introduction
  • Understanding Distance Education
  • Online Learning Is Not Just About Geographical Distance
  • Growing Significance of Distance and Online Learning
  • Profile of Distance Learners
  • Historical Demographics of Distance Learners
  • Contemporary Demographics of Distance Learners
  • Availability of Distance and Online Learning
  • Accessing Student Services Online
  • Importance of Financial Aid
  • Courses That Work for Today’s Learner
  • Challenges
  • Historical Characteristics of Distance Education
  • Contemporary Characteristics of Distance Education
  • Need for Self-Motivation and Discipline
  • Incorrect Assumptions About Course Rigor
  • Access to Comprehensive Support Services
  • Connecting With Faculty and Students
  • Perceived Value of Online Education
  • Successes
  • Increased Access to Higher Education
  • Improvements to Pedagogy and Interaction
  • Academic Community in Online Learning
  • The Distance Experience
  • Why Many Students Choose Distributed Courses Over Campus-Based Courses
  • Academic Community and Today’s Distributed Students
  • Why Reducing Transactional Distance Is Important
  • Integrating and Engaging Students
  • Training of Faculty in the Use of Technology for Education
  • Preparing Faculty to Meet the Needs of Today’s Online Student
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: A Generation Divided: An In-Depth View of Millennial Students
  • Introduction
  • Defining Millennial Students
  • Millennials as a Student Culture
  • Millennials as a Student Generation
  • Millennials as Two Distinct Groups: 1980s vs. 1990s
  • Impact of Technology
  • Early Millennials (born in the 1980s)
  • Later Millennials (born in the 1990s)
  • The Generation Divided: Professional Students vs. Consumers
  • The Next Student Generation: Tech Gens
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part Four: Student Development
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Student Mental Health Issues on Today’s Campuses
  • The College Student Mental Health Domain
  • How Students Access Mental Health Support on Campus: The College Counseling Professional Specialty
  • Mental Health on Today’s Campuses: Increased Demand and Greater Complexity
  • A Closer Look at Student Mental Health Issues
  • Alcohol and Other Substance Use
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Dating and Relationship Violence and Sexual Violence
  • Eating Disorders
  • Learning Disabilities and ADHD
  • Non-Suicidal Self-Injury
  • Severe Psychological Issues: Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia
  • Continuum of Individual and Campus Disruption
  • Future Trend: Student Mental Health at 2-Year Colleges
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Undergraduate College Drinking: A Brief Review of the Literature
  • General Trends in College Student Drinking
  • Prevalence of Alcohol Use in the College Population
  • Alcohol-Related Consequences
  • Impaired Academic Performance.
  • Physical Illness Caused by Alcohol Consumption and Blackouts
  • Unintended/Unprotected Sexual Activity, Interpersonal Violence, and Sexual Assault
  • Impaired Driving
  • Injuries and Deaths
  • Risk Factors
  • Demographics: Ethnicity and Gender
  • College-Specific Social Contexts and Activities
  • Drinking Motives and Alcohol Expectancies
  • Personality: Impulsivity Traits
  • First Age of Onset
  • Event- and Context-Specific Drinking
  • Event-Specific Drinking
  • Drinking Games Participation
  • Prepartying
  • Energy Drinks
  • Peer Influence: Norm Perceptions
  • Protective Factors
  • Co-Occurring Issues
  • Prevention/Intervention Efforts
  • Future Directions
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Student Rights and Responsibilities: Duty to Care and the Pendulum of In Loco Parentis
  • Introduction
  • The Legal Concept of In Loco Parentis
  • The End of In Loco Parentis as a Legal Concept in Higher Education
  • Is There Still a Parenting Function in Higher Education?
  • What Describes the Current Student (Parent)–Institutional Relationship?
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: Service-Learning and Student Learning
  • Purpose and Goals of Service-Learning
  • Defining Service-Learning
  • College Students and Service
  • Learning Outcomes Associated With Service-Learning
  • Identity Development
  • Social Justice and Diversity
  • Program Components That Lead to Learning Outcomes
  • Complicating Issues in Service-Learning
  • Issues of Power and Community Voice
  • Racial Identity and Service-Learning
  • Resistance and Dissonance
  • Required Service-Learning
  • Short-Term Immersion Programs
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: Benefits of Outdoor Adventure Experiences on Student Learning and Transformation
  • Introduction
  • Definitions
  • Outdoor Adventure Experiences
  • Experiences, Pursuits, and Activities
  • Experiential Learning
  • Student-Centered, Engagement of the Whole Person, and Reflection
  • Experiences
  • Outdoor Adventure Programming in Higher Education
  • Outdoor Orientation Programs
  • Outdoor Recreation Trips and Associated Programs
  • Leadership Development Opportunities for Students
  • Benefits
  • Assessment Resources
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: Study Abroad and Guided Reflections: How to Help Students Recognize the Personal Benefits of Their International Experience
  • Introduction
  • An Overview of Study Abroad
  • Demographics
  • Benefits of Studying Abroad
  • Modern Language Development
  • Academic and University-Based Gains
  • Personal Growth
  • Global Perspective Development
  • Disadvantage of Studying Abroad
  • Reflections
  • The Internet and Study Abroad
  • Integrating Reflection With Study Abroad—Curricular Examples
  • Summary
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Series Index


Pietro A. Sasso and Joseph L. DeVitis

I went to college because I didn’t have anywhere else to go and it was a fabulous hang. And while I was there I was exposed to this world that I didn’t know was possible.

—Tom Hanks

I loved [college] for what it provided me access to: bonds with people I grew to cherish. And nothing was better than working toward my dreams alongside people I loved who were doing the same.

—Liz Murray, Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival,
and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard

Typically, college admissions websites and brochures create exorbitant optimism about higher education. They mirror the excitement and energy of first-year student welcome weeks, residence hall move-in days, and the initial anxiety of adult learners scurrying to find their classroom locations. Yet the distance between this description and the actual student experience often reflects a less sanguine narrative. That narrative—set between the margins of catalogues, policies, procedures, protocols, strategic plans, grants, retention reports, financial statements, and assessment data—paints a less ideal portrait of college life, one in which the students we presumably serve seem to be peculiarly left out of sight.

As a profession and an industry, higher education—like most institutions—is hardly infallible. Its long, often contentious history has moved from a focus on in loco parentis (in place of parents) to alma mater (caring mother) to caveat emptor (buyer beware). Similarly, contemporary colleges have shifted to a kind of McDonaldization, privileging capitalist rationales for university management in the name of efficiency and “progress” (Hayes & Wynyard, 2002). More and more, this dominant corporate model plagues the spatial and temporal landscape of postsecondary education. In all this, ← 1 | 2 → we are again compelled to ask: Have we largely forgotten the student? In presenting this volume, we hope to offer a significant counterpoint, one that might revivify the main reason for any university’s existence: to educate students as persons in their full totality.

In 1910, former U.S. and Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson stated:

The great voice of America does not come from the seats of learning, but in a murmur from the hills and the woods and the farms and the factories and the mills, rolling on and gaining volume until it comes to us from the homes of the common [sic]. Do these murmurs come into the corridors of the university? I have not heard them. (Link, 1975, p. 365)

Echoing this sentiment, we believe that Wilson’s grave message remains alive today. We still need to be more sensitive to students’ experiences and more willing and able to respond to their needs. We need to step back, reflect, and become more understanding of students as individuals. This means we also need to step back from our unquestioning idolatry of administrative and legislative efficiency. It offers no real panaceas for what ails today’s college students.

* * *

This book affords an extensive, in-depth overview of America’s contemporary undergraduate students. As editors, we faced a challenging task in that there are over 20 million of them in our institutions of higher education. About one-third are the traditional college age (18–22), and some 25% are older than 25. Part-timers comprise over one-third of the country’s student body; approximately 60% attend four-year public and private colleges, and the rest attend community colleges and for-profit schools (Johnson, 2013).

In addition to their sheer numbers, these students bring mind-boggling diversity with them. Just as there are myriad kinds of colleges and universities, different student groups and identities abound on our campuses: African American, Latino/a, Native American, Asian, White, Middle Eastern, Indian, students with disabilities, residential, nonresidential, first-generational, distance learners, and so on. Accordingly, we have sought to present rich, descriptive, interpretive, and normative analyses of a wide variety of student types. Indeed, we believe that this emphasis sets our work apart from other books on college students that do not cover such a broad spectrum of student populations. In so doing, we have attempted to avoid stereotyping any particular group(s). Thanks in large part to our thoughtful contributors, we trust that effort has succeeded. It is our sincere hope that the chapters in this volume will provide readers (especially college students) with informed insights on counterparts who may be similar to or different than themselves.

We also acknowledge our privileged past and seek a more hopeful, egalitarian future in the wake of such challenges as mental health, substance misuse, and the good and ill represented in advanced technologies. In addition, as social inequality rises and a deep recession has taken its toll, financial aid is becoming harder to find, especially at state schools (Folbre, 2010; Newfield, 2008), and astounding tuition hikes make many parents and students shake their heads in despair. Their disappointment might be even more pronounced at universities that unduly privilege faculty research over any commitment to undergraduate teaching.

Throughout this book, we invite students, their instructors, and other college/university practitioners to be mindful of the crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, connection between extracurricular campus activities and the academy’s cardinal aim of learning. All of us in higher ← 2 | 3 → education should expect our pursuits to be, in John Dewey’s (1938) words, “educative” rather than non-educative or mis-educative. To forget that out-of-classroom programs should sustain educational moments is to sabotage why colleges exist. Both social interaction and individual critical reflection are vital to worthwhile collegiate experiences.

Our philosophy of education harkens back to the professional vision of adopting the “student personnel point of view” (American Council on Education, 1949), that is, the need to see the student “as a whole” in all her dimensions—physical, social, emotional, and spiritual, as well as strictly academic. Learning can occur in many settings, though the university is perhaps the most perfected laboratory for its practice in a more or less organized form. Indeed, college commencement, meant to be a “beginning,” should remind all of us who work in academe that our ultimate goal is to equip students for life after college as well as during college:

Educate our students as whole people, and they will bring all of who they are to the demands of being human in private and public life. The present and future well-being of humankind asks nothing less of us. (Palmer, Zajonc, & Scribner, 2010, p. 153)

And what should postsecondary institutions do with and for their students? A concerned report issued by the University of Michigan (President’s Commission Report on the Undergraduate Experience, 2002) offers a coherent set of recommendations:

  1. Make the campus more interconnected, integrated, and permeable.
  2. Connect students to the community and the world.
  3. Treat the undergraduate career as a life-course journey, both intellectually and socially.
  4. Equip undergraduates with good maps and good guides for their journey.
  5. Create a student community that is diverse, inclusive, adventurous, and self-reflective.
  6. Provide resources and nurture practices that renew the faculty commitment to undergraduate education and enhance faculty-student interaction. (pp. 11–14)

At the same time, some recent critiques of American higher education paint a rather dismal portrait of how little learning may actually be occurring on our campuses (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Bok, 2007). Their findings underscore the need to tie social activities to engaged learning experiences. Since undergraduates spend, on average, about 15 hours per week in the classroom, it is imperative that student life professionals prepare ample educative encounters for student activities across the quadrangle. Ideally, they should include students themselves in their planning and execution so that they can be real actors in their own learning—one that requires reflection and judgment.

Meanwhile, we urge college and university personnel to wean students away from an overarching contemporary obsession: the consumer society. Too many students today “live in an age of convenience and consumption. A college education has been commodified, understood as yet another acquisition to be made rather than a process in which you engage” (Crone & MacKay, 2007, p. 18). That is, students should gain from intangible, yet felt, activities themselves, and not just from more tangible material products. Knowing the difference is to be able to differentiate between “to be” and “to have.” Admittedly, student affairs practitioners face countless difficult challenges. They are working with students in all manner of transition, whatever their age: ← 3 | 4 →

Students are adjusting to newfound freedom, with more control over their schedules, selection of activities, choice of friends, food consumption, and myriad similar choices large and small. At the same time, there is often a loss of family contact, exposure to religious, racial, sexual, or cultural differences that may be disconcerting. (Radison & DiGeronimo, 2004, p. 11)

For traditional undergraduates, the transitional phases of college life can be especially problematic as they “learn to individuate from parents, to establish social relations, to settle into their sexuality, to decide how they will deal with drugs and alcohol, and to rise to financial, intellectual, and social demands” (Pistorello, 2013, p. 10).

To engage with such students requires a special person: one who has flexibility, commitment, and an uncanny ability to deal with ambiguity. In some ways, these are the very kinds of capacities that William Perry (1970) outlined in his seminal study on the intellectual and ethical development of college students themselves. The halls of academe demand that kind of maturation from us all. This means that we, who serve in higher education, must also practice deep self-reflection if we are to be effective agents of student development.

In the end, it may really be the power of diversity on college campuses that leads to many of the educational goals that we yearn for in student growth: the formal and informal social interactions, bonded in reflective learning, that help build social and academic success. In this we can celebrate together, especially those of us who have savored so many “bright college years”:

How many of us would have predicted, in the 1950s or 1960s, that so great a number of talented and dissimilar students would be studying together and learning from one another after so brief a passage of time? No similar transformation has ever before taken place in the long history of higher education, either in this country or elsewhere. (Rudenstein, 2001, p. 47)

That blessed diversity must be protected, indeed augmented, against present and potential legal and social barriers with the most compelling moral suasion we can muster—for the benefit of all students, today and tomorrow.


American Council on Education. (1949). Student personnel point of view. Washington, DC: Author.

Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bok, D. (2007). Our underachieving colleges: A candid look at how much students learn and why they should be learning more. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Crone, I., & MacKay, K. (2007). Motivating today’s college students. Peer Review, 9(1), 18–21.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. Indianapolis, IN: Kappa Delta Pi.

Folbre, N. (2010). State U: Why we must fix public higher education. New York, NY: New Press.

Hayes, D., & Wynyard, R. (Eds.). (2002). The McDonaldization of higher education. New York, NY: Praeger.

Johnson, J. (2013, September 14). Today’s typical college students often juggle work, children, and bills with coursework. The Washington Post, p. C8.

Link, S.A. (Ed.). (1975). Address to Princeton University alumni, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (April 17, 1910). In The papers of Woodrow Wilson (Vol. 20, p. 365). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Murray, L. (2011). Breaking night: A memoir of forgiveness, survival, and my journey from homeless to Harvard. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Newfield, C. (2008). Unmasking the public university: The forty-year assault on the middle class. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Palmer, P.J., & Zajonc, A., & Scribner, M. (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ← 4 | 5 →

Perry, W.G., Jr. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A scheme. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Pistorello, J. (2013). Mindfulness and acceptance for counseling college students: Theory and practical applications for intervention, prevention, and outreach. Reno, NV: Context Press.

President’s Commission Report on the Undergraduate Experience. (2002). The second chapter of change: Renewing undergraduate education at the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI: Board of Regents of the University of Michigan.

Radison, R., & DiGeronimo, T.F. (2004). The college of the overwhelmed: The campus mental health crisis and what to do about it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rudenstein, N.L. (2001). Student diversity and higher education. In G. Orfield (Ed.), Diversity challenged: Evidence on the impact of affirmative action (pp. 31–48). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education. ← 5 | 6 →



Student Diversity

← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 →



Historical and Contemporary Challenges Faced by African American Undergraduate Students

Ufuoma Abiola, Marybeth Gasman, Thai-Huy Nguyen, Andrés Castro Samayoa, and Felecia Commodore

Completion of higher education is critical for African American students. A college education serves a private and public good by providing economic and social benefits both to individuals and to society as a whole (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2006). Individuals with more education tend to have higher salaries, higher savings, more leisure time, and better health/life expectancy (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2006). However, for African American students, the U.S. higher education system is not providing the same benefits as compared to White students (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2006; Long & Riley, 2007). In this chapter, historical and contemporary challenges faced by African American undergraduate students are examined. The argument begins with a discussion of K–12 education and family background and then moves to issues of access and enrollment, persistence and retention, and graduation. This topic is of importance because projections indicate that, by 2014, more than 40% of graduating high school seniors will be people of color; by 2015, students of color will represent 37% of all postsecondary enrollments, and 80% of the new undergraduate students will be African American, Hispanic, or Asian/Pacific Islander (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2006). In order for African American students to survive, thrive, and ultimately graduate from college, postsecondary educators must offer high-quality, customized institutional programs and practices for these students.

History of African American Education

Despite efforts to deny them access to education, African Americans have sought learning opportunities, albeit informally, since their arrival in the United States. During slavery, free African ← 9 | 10 → Americans in the North enrolled in the few colleges willing to admit them, such as Oberlin and Dartmouth. Richard Humphries, of Philadelphia, established the Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheyney University) to educate free African Americans. Following the close of the Civil War and the end of slavery, African American and White missionaries created small colleges to educate African Americans, providing both teacher training and religious instruction. Most jobs for African Americans were menial, and those who were college educated were limited to teacher and preacher positions, as these were the only professional jobs available. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are responsible for educating the African American middle class as we know it, preparing African American scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers, and business people. These institutions educated over 90% of African Americans for nearly 100 years, since predominantly White institutions (PWIs) did not welcome African Americans on their campuses (Gasman, 2007; Gasman, Lundy-Wagner, Ransom, & Bowman, 2010).

The Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, although directly pertaining to K–12 education, had a significant impact on higher education for African Americans in that it very slowly opened the doors to PWIs by dismantling segregation in the nation (Gasman, 2007). Although legally admitted to PWIs, African American students had to fight countless battles in order to gain admission and to gain rights as students through the early 1980s. Some African Americans were forced to face hostile college environments in which faculty and administrators, as well as other students, challenged their intellect and humanity daily (Gasman, 2007). Although the experiences of African American students have improved, there are still myriad challenges. But despite these challenges, African Americans have made great strides in terms of higher education, leveraging their education to contribute to society in important ways (Gasman, 2007; Gasman et al., 2010).

K–12 Underpreparation and Family Background

In examining contemporary experiences of African American students in college, the barriers and issues influencing their access to postsecondary opportunities must be acknowledged. African American students’ experiences in the K–12 environment remain deeply marginalizing and, indeed, affect their college readiness. On average, African American students enter college highly underprepared on several levels (Kao & Thompson, 2003). They have a greater likelihood of graduating from poorly funded secondary schools that possess few opportunities for students to recognize and reach their full potential (Kao & Thompson, 2003; Perna & Titus, 2005). In these under-resourced schools there is a shortage of qualified teachers to prepare these students for college English and mathematics, both of which are general education requirements for the associate’s degree or to transfer to bachelor-level, degree-granting institutions. Moreover, institutional practices such as tracking, which “is the process whereby students are divided into categories so that they can be assigned in groups to various kinds of classes,” have been shown to constrain African American students’ opportunities for achievement in high school and for a college education (Oakes, 1985, p. 3).

African American students are more likely than White students to come from lower-income homes with non-college-educated parents, which can starve students of the economic and cultural capital needed to pursue higher education (McDonough, 1997). Having college-educated parents, especially ones actively involved in their child’s academic life (Perna & Titus, 2005), is not only related to higher aspirations in students and a greater likelihood of college ← 10 | 11 → enrollment, but also means that they have the financial resources (Orr, 2003) to take advantage of programs and tutorials that can enhance their likelihood of being admitted to a selective institution.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education suggests that the average freshman graduation rate1 for African American students is 62%, which is 19% lower than the graduation rate for their White peers (NCES, 2011b; 2012). Explanations for this discrepancy are many, though studies suggest that indicators for future education achievement are influenced by factors such as parental education, teacher preparation (Aud, Fox, & KewalRamani, 2010), and neighborhood composition (Sharkey, 2009), to name just a few. The multifactorial elements influencing African American students’ future collegiate success are important reminders of the ways in which postsecondary success is deeply entwined with the K–12 system, a sobering reminder that coalition building across educational tiers remains a work in progress in the United States.

Access and Enrollment

Between 1976 and 2011, African American undergraduate enrollment grew by 50% (NCES, 2012). Currently, of 18 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs, African Americans make up 15% of this total. Despite substantial gains in the past 35 years, disparities in postsecondary education continue to exist along racial and ethnic lines. White enrollment has decreased slightly since 2009, and yet Whites continue to make up 59% of the undergraduate population (NCES, 2012). According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University (Carnevale & Strohl, 2013), “the postsecondary system mimics and magnifies the racial and ethnic inequality in educational preparation it inherits from the K–12 system” (p. 7). Granted, increased African American enrollment may be considered an indication of diminishing educational inequality. However, the choices African American students make to attend certain institutions and the challenges they continue to face during their collegiate journey bear testament to the reality that gains in enrollment alone do not guarantee postsecondary success.

In our nation’s large and complex systems of higher education, African American undergraduates primarily enroll in less selective and open-access colleges and universities, or institutions with historical missions to serve African American communities. The most common open-access institution is the community college—for which African Americans make up 16% of enrollment as opposed to 13% at 4-year institutions. Additionally, 105 HBCUs enroll 11% of the nation’s African American students, despite the fact that they make up less than 3% of all U.S. postsecondary institutions (Gasman et al., 2013). HBCUs, which provide a nurturing environment with ample student support and same-race role models, remain a viable option for many African American students.

For many African American students, both social status and racial identity play a large and critical role in their choice to pursue postsecondary education and their selection of which college to attend. A study by Orr (2003) has shown that even after controlling for social class, racial identity has a significant effect on educational achievement as measured by standardized exams. For instance, in the past 20 years the gap in SAT-Critical Reading scores for African Americans and Whites has hovered around 100 points; a similar pattern exists for the mathematics section (NCES, 2011a). ← 11 | 12 →

Graduation from high school may mark students as competent and ready for college, but in reality, many African American students attend community colleges because they were not given adequate preparation for a 4-year institution. Community college offers a plethora of avenues, including remedial education for students to begin their path toward completion (Goldrick-Rab, 2010). For many students of color and non-traditional students who leave high school underprepared for the rigors of a 4-year institution, attending a community college represents a singular opportunity to earn a college degree. However, enrollment in community colleges does not always guarantee successful transfer to a 4-year institution. Many students find themselves stuck in the system and leave with a multitude of units, but not a degree (Shaw, 1997).

Wassmer, Moore, and Shulock (2004) found that community colleges with larger shares of African American and Latino students had a much lower transfer rate. Conversely, their study also suggests that community colleges with higher transfer rates had more resources and a strong focus on academic preparation; these institutions had a higher enrollment of Whites and Asians (Wassmer et al., 2004). In other words, even within the community college system, African American students continue to face challenges that constrain their opportunities to progress along the educational pipeline.

Access alone, however, does not mean that African American students will enroll in college or persist to graduation. With rising tuition and the additional costs associated with a college degree (room and board, textbooks, transportation, health insurance), college affordability continues to be a significant barrier to African American students. St. John, Paulsen, and Carter (2005) state that the recent changes in financial aid (reduction in federal, state, and institutional grants and scholarships) have a greater effect on African American students than they do on Whites. Tuition and financial aid are closely associated with the types of colleges that African American students choose to attend, whereas the same constraints matter less for Whites (St. John, Paulsen, & Carter, 2005). More recently, loans are making up a larger proportion of financial aid packages (Long & Riley, 2007). Not only is the relationship between loans and enrollment negative for African American students (Perna, 2000), but there is also growing concern that the increase in loans may, in the long term, outpace meaningful and sufficient opportunities needed to pay them off. According to Long and Riley (2007), more full-time African American students (58%) take out federal and private loans to finance their college education than any other racial or ethnic group. In 2010, 15.1% of the nation lived in poverty, and African Americans exceeded the national average by almost 13% (National Poverty Center, 2013). Not only are African American students coming from far more disadvantaged homes, but they and their families also face a more difficult task in financing a college education (National Poverty Center, 2013). Despite the large number of institutions that can provide greater access to African American students, the current state of the financial aid structure calls into question the benefits of a college degree in such a volatile economy.

Persistence and Retention

Campus Racial Climate

Student success within postsecondary settings is highly correlated with institutional environments. The seminal work by Sylvia Hurtado (1992) on campus racial climate has become a ← 12 | 13 → benchmark for assessing campus success in addressing racial tensions and creating a hospitable environment not only for African American students, but for all students negotiating their racial identities in a diverse environment. In a meta-analysis updating Hurtado’s seminal work, Harper and Hurtado (2007) provide nine themes in a multi-sited qualitative study across a racially heterogeneous group of students (n=278). In their findings, Harper and Hurtado (2007) acknowledge the deleterious effects of “the pervasiveness of Whiteness in space, curricula, and activities” (p. 18) on college campuses, as well as the “infrequency with which race-related conversations occurred on campus” (p. 16). These findings are highlighted as crucial factors influencing African American student success at predominantly White campuses. Institutional heterogeneity throughout the United States, however, is indicative of the myriad environments available for African American students in their postsecondary pursuits. Research consistently demonstrates that environments such as those provided at HBCUs enable students not only to explore their racial identities, but to develop the necessary competencies for academic success as well (Gasman et al., 2010).

Infused with a historical mission to serve African American communities (Gasman, Baez, & Turner, 2008), enrollment in an HBCU allows students to accrue several educational benefits. First, institutional climates at HBCUs are centered upon the academic and professional achievement of African American students (Allen, Jewell, Griffin, & Wolf, 2007; Brown & Davis, 2001). This means that, first, every decision, strategy, and intervention is driven by the desire to see every student on that campus reach his or her full potential. Second, the cultivation of this climate specifically includes hiring faculty members (Hubbard & Stage, 2009) and staff members of color (Hirt, Strayhorn, Amelink, & Bennett, 2006) who understand their students’ backgrounds and can provide consistent mentoring. Third, curriculum and student leadership activities are developed and employed to demonstrate to students the value of their own histories and cultures predicated on the belief that such provisions will strengthen and deepen their academic engagement and ultimately provide them with the support they need to succeed (Nelson Laird, Bridges, Morelon-Quainoo, Williams, & Holmes, 2007; Palmer & Gasman, 2008).

Transfer Students

Community colleges serve a large number of low-income students and students of color (Hagedorn, Maxwell, & Hampton, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). The literature speaks to African American students’ collegiate experience and their challenges in transferring between institutions. Transfer rates of students by racial/ethnic group show disparities. Wassmer, Moore, and Shulock (2004) found that, after accounting for all other factors that affect transfer rates, institutions with higher percentages of African American or Latino students have lower 6-year transfer rates, whereas those with a larger percentage of Asian American students have higher transfer rates. Blau (1999) found that African American transfer rates were positively related to school size, meaning that “the larger the school the higher the transfer rate” (p. 528). Income was also found to be positively related to the transfer rate of Black students. Communities that were largely African American and affluent were likely to have high transfer rates. This suggests that the African American middle class has begun to use the 2-year college to pursue college degrees (Blau, 1999). Altogether, more must be understood about the unique experiences of African American transfer students, particularly those transferring from 2-year colleges to 4-year ← 13 | 14 → colleges. Their voices are often missing from the research on African American college students (Wassmer et al., 2004).

Hawley and Harris (2005) found that there are numerous variables that play a role in community college students being retained and persisting as opposed to dropping out. One of the highest predictors of dropout is the amount of developmental education courses a student must take (Hawley & Harris, 2005). This was found to be true across all racial/ethnic groups. English proficiency was also found to be a problem. This finding points to retention issues for African and Caribbean ESL students who are identified as Black/African American—necessitating the acknowledgment of the heterogeneity of African American students’ backgrounds and experiences (Hawley & Harris, 2005).

Similarly, the length of time between completion of high school and entry into college presented itself as a barrier to retention (Hawley & Harris, 2005). Hawley and Harris (2005) make the case for a counterintuitive finding, namely, that the motivation to transfer to a 4-year institution is a strong predictor of students dropping out, especially in their first year. This finding is interesting and begs the question as to how community colleges communicate their role and ability to serve as a pipeline to 4-year institutions.

Other predictors tagged students who suspect they will have trouble financing college and who have employment responsibilities outside of college (Hawley & Harris, 2005). Various strategies have been explored to increase African American student retention at community colleges, particularly African American males (Glenn, 2003). More must be learned about this specific group of students in order to bolster the completion rates of African American students in community colleges.

Achievement and Learning

The literature on African American college student achievement and learning spans various areas. Often this literature focuses on the varying experiences at different types of institutions. Though there is no differential impact on African American students’ degree completion between institutional types, the experiences that students have at these institutions may vary (Kim & Conrad, 2006). These are the experiences that affect student learning. Cokley (2000) found that there was no significant difference in African American students’ academic self-concept between PWIs and HBCUs, though African American students attending HBCUs reported more positive experiences at their institutions as compared to those who attended PWIs. Regardless of institutional type, academic self-concept for African American students increased as GPA increased (Cokley, 2000). Class status was a predictor of academic self-concept (Cokley, 2000), and student-faculty relationships also played a role in positive academic self-concept (Cokley, 2000).

Integration is an important part of increasing retention rates for all students (Tinto, 1997). For students of color in particular, programs such as freshman seminars, mentoring, and diversity-friendly campus climate help to foster such integration (Szelenyi, 2001). Nelson Laird and colleagues (2007) found that African American students at HBCUs experienced significantly higher rates of engagement than African American students at PWIs. African American seniors at HBCUs reported gaining more in terms of outcomes (e.g., acquiring a broad general education, thinking critically and analytically, and understanding oneself and people of other racial and ethnic groups); this being true, levels of satisfaction for African American seniors at both institutional types were similar (Nelson Laird et al., 2007). ← 14 | 15 →

Same-Race/Cross-Race Faculty Mentors

Faculty-student mentoring relationships prove to be beneficial to the success of students of color. Many institutions are aware of this and provide some kind of mentoring program or faculty relationship for students to access. For faculty of color, this obligation is often found when it comes to students of color, who find access to faculty-student mentor relationships with same-race faculty to be beneficial to their academic success (Turner, 2002). In fact, African American students at HBCUs interacted with faculty more than did their counterparts at non-HBCUs (Nelson Laird et al., 2007). HBCUs tend to have a more racially and ethnically diverse faculty than PWIs, and one could infer that this may be the reason for such high rates of interaction (Gasman et al., 2013).

Lee (1999) found that African American students were more concerned with having a mentor in their career field than having a mentor of the same race, and thus could establish productive and fruitful mentor relationships with cross-race faculty. Some students even reported having less-than-positive interactions with same-race faculty (Lee, 1999). What is most important is that there is reciprocity in the mentor relationship (Lee, 1999). This does not mean that there are no challenges involved in the cross-race mentoring relationship. Johnson-Bailey and Cervero (2004) found that there are six common issues that come with these relationships: trust between mentor and protégé, acknowledged and unacknowledged racism, visibility and risks pertinent to minority faculty, power and paternalism, benefits to mentor and protégé, and the feeling of “otherness” in the academy (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2004). Cross-race mentoring relationships should be encouraged on campuses, but to be beneficial to both parties—particularly African American students—sensitivity to their unique experiences must be understood and acknowledged in these relationships.


There is a large disparity in the graduation rates between African Americans and Whites in U.S. postsecondary institutions. According to the most recent NCES data regarding undergraduate graduation rates (NCES, 2011b), African Americans earned 10% of the baccalaureate degrees in 2010, whereas Whites earned 70.8% of them in the same year. These statistics reveal the alarmingly disproportionate rate of graduation between African Americans and Whites—that is, African Americans overall are graduating from college at a far lower rate than Whites. There are also fewer African American males earning undergraduate degrees than African American females, as African American male students are often less prepared for rigorous college-level work (Harper, 2012; Lundy-Wagner & Gasman, 2011). African American male college completion rates are not only the lowest between genders but are also the lowest among all racial/ethnic groups in U.S. postsecondary education (Harper, 2012; Strayhorn, 2010). Further stark statistics show that the percentage of African American males enrolled in the academy in 1976 stayed the same in 2002, when African American males comprised only 4.3% of students (Harper, 2012; Strayhorn, 2010).

At highly selective postsecondary institutions there are high rates of graduation for African American students. Harvard University, Amherst College, Princeton University, and Brown University have an African American student graduation rate of over 90% (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2005/2006). Yale University, Georgetown University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania have an African American graduation rate of 85% or more ← 15 | 16 → (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2005/2006). The graduation rates of African Americans at elite PWIs are, in part, a result of the orientation and retention programming and practices on campus designed to aid African American students in acclimating to these spaces. Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, and Gonyea (2008) state:

These practices include well-designed and implemented orientation, placement testing, first-year seminars, learning communities, intrusive advising, early warning systems, redundant safety nets, supplemental instruction, peer tutoring and mentoring, theme-based campus housing, adequate financial aid including on-campus work, internships, service learning, and demonstrably effective teaching practices. (p. 556)

Having a significant number of African American enrollees, offering culture-rich programming with African American student organizations to enhance a sense of community on campus, and providing peer-mentoring opportunities between African American freshmen and upperclassmen increases the African American student graduation rate (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2005/2006). Also, campuses located in urban areas or areas where African Americans have a significant presence have higher rates of graduation for African American students (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2005/2006). Institutions with large endowments that enable them to support low-income African American students also have higher African American graduation rates (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2005/2006).

In terms of African American post-baccalaureate outcomes, academic achievement at an undergraduate institution is the most significant predictor of entry into a graduate program for both genders (Bedard & Herman, 2008). However, African American women are seeking graduate education at higher rates than African American men (Perna, 2004). “During a 30-year period (1977–2007), Black men experienced a 109% increase in post-baccalaureate degree attainment, compared to 242% for Latino men and 425% for Asian American men; the comparative rate of increase for Black women was 253%” (Harper, 2012, p. 3). Financial aid also influences post-baccalaureate attendance. For low-income students, who can be negatively affected by the cost of tuition, financial aid can incline them toward attending school (Berkner & Chavez, 1997). For African American students, financial aid is particularly important, as it is a major deciding factor in whether to enroll in a graduate program or join the workforce (Davis et al., 2010). It is noteworthy that African American students who attended an HBCU for their undergraduate degree are just as likely to pursue a graduate degree as African American students who attended a PWI (Eagan et al., 2010; Zhang, 2005). Overall, African American students who acquire baccalaureate degrees earn wages significantly higher than African Americans who drop out of college, with a median income that is almost on a par with Whites of comparable education (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2005/2006).


Current research continues to emphasize the importance of highlighting African American students’ heterogeneity across intersecting identity markers such as gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and religious affiliation (Stewart, 2009). Indeed, institutional variability alone already provides ample opportunity for a multiplicity of experiences for African American students. To presume that a synthesis of African American students’ collegiate experiences can be truncated is beyond the scope of any research agenda. It is more compelling, instead, ← 16 | 17 → to identify the patterns emerging within the multiple groups of African American students. Emerging trends can guide future research agendas. For example, there is a need to further enhance our understanding of the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered African American students, about which there exists scant literature (Patton, 2011). Additionally, there is a critical need to improve and support the experiences of African American males, whose participation in higher education in 2009 was 31.8% less than African American women (Harper, 2012). Thus the aim of this chapter has been to give a broad overview of the trends in African American higher education with the goal of informing those interested in strengthening the experiences of African American students.


1.    The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines the “average freshman graduation rate” as the proportion of public high school freshmen who graduate with a regular diploma four years after starting 9th grade.


Allen, W.R., Jewell, J.O., Griffin, K.A., & Wolf, D. (2007). Historically Black colleges and universities: Honoring the past, engaging the present, touching the future. Journal of Negro Education, 76(3), 263–280.


XII, 424
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (January)
multicultural university diversity learning social interaction critical reflection consumerism
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 424 pp.

Biographical notes

Pietro A. Sasso (Volume editor) Joseph L. DeVitis (Volume editor)

Pietro A. Sasso is Assistant Professor of Student Affairs and College Counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. He has over a decade of experience in postsecondary education in both student affairs and academic areas. His research focuses on identity construction and college student development outcomes. Joseph L. DeVitis has edited a notable group of readers for Peter Lang: The College Curriculum (2013), Contemporary Colleges and Universities (2013), Critical Civic Literacy (2013), Character and Moral Education (2011), and Adolescent Education (2010). The latter three books won Critics’ Choice Awards from the American Educational Studies Association


Title: Today’s College Students
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439 pages