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Constance Iloh

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When We Say Black Students in Higher Education, What Do We Really Mean?

One week ago I attended the Compact for Diversity Teaching and Mentoring Conference and in a session on how technology is shaping classrooms in the 21st century, the facilitator yelled,

Technology waits for no one!

(You might be thinking to yourself, “What does this have to do with the title of this post?”)

I liken the facilitator’s sentiment to my current thoughts and concerns on how we describe black students in higher education. The way in which students participate in postsecondary education is not waiting for researchers to catch up, yet perhaps we are discussing black students in a manner where we are resistant to how time has changed the very nature of their presence in postsecondary education.

Consequently, the impetus for this post came from frequent encounters I have had where the descriptors associated with black students were “students ages 18–24 attending public and private four-year universities, which were usually predominately white institutions or historically black colleges and universities.” I find this archaic and problematic considering that it overlooks black students in other institutional types as well as those that are adult learners.

In the event that people are still uncertain, here a few numbers:

  • As of 2010, roughly 15% of black students attend for-profit schools—more than students of any other racial group.
  • Currently over 50% of black students in postsecondary education are enrolled in community colleges. This equates to roughly one million black students enrolled in over 1,200 community colleges across the country.
  • Adult learners over age 24 currently comprise about 44% of U.S. postsecondary students.

My goal here in this post is to call the attention of scholars, practitioners, and stakeholders that care about black students in higher education and assert that our concern should extend beyond what we may traditionally think describes black students in higher education. While we know that black students have been often relegated to the margins of postsecondary education, the rich nuances and diversity in their postsecondary trajectories are timely and ripe for clarification and exploration.

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One Response to “When We Say Black Students in Higher Education, What Do We Really Mean?”

  1. Great point. We need to understand where black students are in higher ed so that we can best meet their needs.

    11/08/2012 at 1:26 pm