Higher Learning Commission

African-American Male Student Persistence Initiative: Leadership Development

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff


The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) is an 1890 land grant Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Since 1873, UAPB/AM&N has provided a broad range of student support services that assist students from diverse backgrounds and with varying levels of academic preparation. These support services include first year experience programs, reading and writing laboratories, mathematics tutorials, summer bridge programs, test taking centers, and teacher/advisors who have high expectations for students and devote time and effort to ensure success. African-American (AA) male students are notably among the many who fail to graduate despite the available student support services. Grounded in research on student engagement in campus life as presented by Tinto, et.al. (Harper, 2006 & 2012; Harper & Quaye, 2007; Strayhorn, 2008 & 2010; Tinto, 1987 & 1993; Allen, 1992; and Tracey & Sedlacek, 1985), this initiative will take a two-dimensional approach including curricular and co-curricular experiences to help increase the number of AA males who successfully graduate within 4-6 years.

George Cooper, executive director of the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities asserts that “branding” HBCUs is a top priority to increase enrollment for these struggling schools. Mr. Cooper announced the White House Initiative on HBCUs All-Star of undergraduate, graduate and professional students for their accomplishments in academics, leadership and civic engagement (Cottman, 2014).

Similarly, UAPB proposes a quality initiative project that leads to developing leadership skills in African-American male students to improve persistence, retention and graduation rates of the target population. This initiative has two major components: co-curricular activities and curricular activities. Non-academic, co-curricular activities are designed to enhance student social interaction, leadership abilities, recreational pursuits, and positive self-concepts. Academic curricular activities are designed to assist in mastery of University degree programs.

The Quality Initiative: African-American Male Student Persistence Initiative: Leadership Development at UAPB is an ongoing quality improvement project for the University that starts with a new freshman African-American (AA) male cohort group each fall semester and tracks each student during his degree program completion. Multiple measures will be utilized to assess the effectiveness of the project including analysis of data from the university’s assessment system at entry level, mid-level (retention), graduation and follow-up (post-graduation). Results will be used for program improvements (on an ongoing basis) and for identification of best practices for AA male student leadership and academic persistence, including baccalaureate graduation in 4-6 years. A quasi-experimental design will be used to test the effectiveness of the proposed interventions from the quality initiative on the AA male cohort groups, and later with other new freshman cohorts as the campus moves to full implementation of the resulting model.

Sufficiency of the Initiative’s Scope and Sequence

Relevance and significance of the Quality Initiative. The proposed Quality Initiative (QI) complements major goals of the University, which include: increasing the fall 2013 enrollment level of 2,615 by an additional 1,385 students by fall 2016; providing greater opportunities in experiential learning; and ensuring that graduates are prepared to engage in a 21st Century globalized society. An average of 46% of entering cohorts for the past 5 fall semesters are AA males and their average retention rate is 50%. The table below shows enrollment and first-year retention rates.

Table I. First-time Freshman Enrollment

First-time Freshmen, Fall Semesters 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013*
AA-Male 429 387 293 250 291
Total First-time Freshmen 977 802 677 575 568
% of Total 43.9% 48.3% 43.3% 43.5% 51.2%
AA-Male - # Retained after 1st Year 229 188 143 128 -
AA-Male - % 1st Year Retention Rate 53% 49% 49% 51% -

*First-year retention for 2013 will be available Fall 2014

This initiative will engage intervention strategies to address a major UAPB challenge of the decline in enrollment, retention and subsequent graduation rates of first-time entering freshmen, with particular emphasis on African-American males. Current research underscores the positive impact of active student involvement in campus life on academic retention and graduation rates (Valbrun, 2014; Wood & Palmer, 2013; Scott, Taylor, & Palmer, 2013; Kim & Hargrove, 2013; Ward, Strambler, & Linke, 2013; Harper, 2012; Strayhorn, 2008 & 2010; Harper & Quaye, 2007; and Braxton, 2000). At UAPB, as shown in the table above, of the 250 fall 2012 first-time freshman AA male students only 128 returned to UAPB in fall 2013, yielding a 51% retention rate. The first-year retention rate for current fall 2013 cohort of 291 entering AA male students will provide baseline data for this initiative.

Impact on the institution and its academic quality. This initiative has the capacity for improving academic quality at the University through an improved advisement system and faculty/staff development opportunities on topics such as New Early Alert System, Multicultural Diversity Training, Mentorship Training and Expectations that will be coordinated by UAPB’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). All course objectives are aligned with University and program missions and state/national accreditation standards. Syllabi are objective-focused teaching tools with student learning outcomes and rubrics for assessments, which are topics included in ongoing faculty development training. One campus institution that directly impacts academic quality is the annual Mary E. Benjamin Conference for Educational Access that addresses educational initiatives designed to increase academic success of P-16 students in such areas as innovative and effective instructional models, STEM success, exceptionality, and specific topics applicable to high school and college-aged students. The 2010 conference addressed social and academic needs of African-American male students. This conference continues to support academic integrity of this University and its projects (such as UAPB’s Quality Initiative) with keynote speakers and workshops that address improvement of the educational quality of its students. Other campus institutions, in addition to each of its Schools—Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences; Arts and Sciences; Business and Management; and Education—involved with this initiative are Basic Academic Services; Career Services; the Center for Teaching and Learning; and the Center for Student Counseling, Assessment and Student Development. The active involvement of these units in helping to implement this initiative will create a new synergy that will result in new approaches to instruction and student advisement for academic success, thus enhancing the University’s academic quality and outcomes.

Alignment with the institution’s mission and vision. UAPB, as a land grant institution with an HBCU heritage, has a history of providing an education for persons from diverse social and academic backgrounds—especially, rural, lower income and minority populations. The proposed quality initiative is closely aligned with the mission of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and its vision. This quality initiative focuses on a cohort that shows a need. It supports the mission’s call to “develop creative and innovative activities that produce new curricular models in the fields of aesthetics, social and political institutions, and scientific technical development... that help solve economic, physical, social, and political problems.” The University has continuously added units and initiatives to be responsive to its student population. Some examples include University College (1982); the Honors College (1991); the LIONS Program (2008); the STEM Academy (2004); and a new office of Enrollment Management (2014). It also houses TRIO Programs including Student Support Services. All of these programs have been developed to help ensure that our students have the opportunity to successfully complete their baccalaureate study.

Similarly, this initiative parallels UAPB’s vision statement that speaks of the University as a Center for Excellence that shows “concern for the success of all students . . . and fosters the intellectual and social development of a diversified student body.” Our emphasis on success for all students will continue with a specific focus on African-American Males.

Connection with the institution’s planning processes. University's 2011-2015 Strategic Plan presents campus-wide plans for co-curricular program performance and student leadership and involvement. Specifically, the Division of Student Affairs’ goals seek to:

  • extend the learning environment beyond the classroom,
  • provide programs and services that promote student development,
  • emphasize the development of leadership skills and community services, and
  • prepare students for the after college experience.

This initiative is rooted in institutional plans that promote curricular and co-curricular activities. In 2012, the UAPB Student Success Plan was developed by a cross-campus committee in response to an Arkansas Legislative mandate on remediation and collegiate completion. The plan includes the following goals:

  • engage students in meaningful learning activities,
  • use direct instruction for foundational knowledge, and
  • use discovery learning for explorations and applications.

Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose

This Quality Initiative is closely tied to the overall mission of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff which has a rich history of providing educational opportunities to persons from disadvantaged, cultural and diverse academic backgrounds. The purposes and goals, milestones, accomplishments, and evaluation procedures are clearly presented in this section.

Purposes and goals reflecting the scope and significance of the initiative. The purpose of the initiative is to increase the persistence (retention), graduation, and career and postsecondary placements of African-American male students by engaging them in the types of co-curricular and leadership activities that lead to academic success. Data show that the African-American male student is at high risk, in terms of low retention and graduation rates, as compared to other population groups (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2006). The project will merge co-curricular activities with academics and professional mentorship to provide a support system encouraging persistence and successful matriculation to graduation for AA males, a high risk student cohort.

Activities for this initiative are designed to promote leadership skills in African-American male students through their active engagement in curricular and co-curricular activities. The specific ROARING goals for this initiative include promoting the following: Retention, Organizational Skills, Academic Proficiency, Responsibility, Intellectual Thinking Skills, Networking for Success, and Goal Setting. To facilitate these goals, the male students’ collegiate experience will be enhanced and their academic success strengthened through engagement and participation in the following quality initiative activities:

  • Professional Conferences—attendance at professional conferences such as the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute;
  • The proposed Lion Kings Leadership Development Society;
  • Club Activities—membership and leadership in one or more student organizations: departmental clubs, student government association, ethnic/gender specific organizations such as the NAACP, Black Male Achievers, and National Association of Black Men United (NABMU), Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB), and the proposed Rotoract Club (a subsidiary of the Rotary Club);
  • Seminars and Workshops—Career Services Programs for career exploration, perfecting of soft skills needed for good interviewing, behaviors and professional work ethics;
  • Required participation in designated activities of the Center for Student Counseling, Assessment and Development including test preparation and test taking for current degree program requirements and for post-graduation requirements for professional (senior) year such as teacher licensure, law, pre-med opportunities, and graduate school;
  • Mentoring Program—two-tiered program with a UAPB counterpart student mentor and a mentor from the professional community;
  • Curricular Activities for Students—Enhanced Advisement/Monitoring of Academic Progress, assignments to specialized tutorial labs;
  • Service—service learning projects both on campus and in the community; and
  • Involvement in Travel-to-Study Opportunities— study abroad (international), study away (within the United States).

Defined milestones and intended goals. The overall goal of the initiative is to increase the persistence (retention), graduation, and career and post-baccalaureate placements of African-American male students by engaging them in the types of academic, co-curricular and leadership activities that promote academic success and lead to timely graduations. Designated activities as shown below are the critical milestones that signal the students’ expected progression during this initiative.

Quality Initiative Milestones

Goal: To get African-American male students actively involved in co-curricular activities that promote leadership skills in order to increase persistence, graduation, and post-baccalaureate placements as a result

Milestone Results

Co-Curricular Interest Questionnaire

Identify, student academic and social goals

Membership in Campus Club

Gain experience with soft skills needed for professional careers

Officer in Campus Club

Learn Robert Rules of Order and formal and informal communication skills needed for leadership

Assigned to Student Mentor

Receive academic tutoring, practice mentoring and develop oral communication skills

Assigned to Professional Mentor

Understand responsibilities (soft skills and specific job responsibilities) of employees at different levels of professional careers
Service Learning Project and/or Travel-to-Study Opportunity Complete project and/or travel-to-study opportunity, display and/or publish articles
Completion of Advisement Sessions Participate in advisement sessions (advisor/student relationship) to include co-curricular activities, course work, and results from tutorial labs
Completion of Gatekeeping Courses, i.e., English Composition I and College Algebra Successful completion of courses with a “C” grade or better

Attend a Campus, State or National Conference

Explore careers and professional behaviors for networking benefits

Participate in Career Services and Center for Student Counseling, Assessment and Development Activities Complete internship, prepare for and pass required tests for degree completion; and enter career, graduate or professional school
Faculty Development Training in Diversity, Student Learning Outcomes, Rubrics, Project-Based Learning Conduct faculty development sessions in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Advising – review of course syllabi for student learning outcomes, authentic assessments, and rubrics.

These milestones will assist students in attaining a greater level of success as measured by increased persistence, course completion, progression to graduation, and career/post-baccalaureate placements. Through merging co-curricular activities with academics and professional mentorship, the success of AA male students will be increased.

Clear processes for evaluating progress, making adjustments, and determining what has been accomplished. The proposed initiative has clear processes for evaluating the progress of its AA male students, determining what has been accomplished by the initiative, and monitoring and adjusting when needed. Results from the African-American Male Student Persistence Initiative: Leadership Development will provide pertinent information that will be used to revise strategies designed to help AA males become more active, engaged learners. Stakeholders, both internally and externally, will be attentive to lessons learned and best practices developed in the initiative. Results will be channeled through our UAPB-HLC Steering Committee and key stakeholders, for the purpose of making any needed adjustments and strategies. An assessment team exists for the quality initiative with the task of development and execution of the assessment plan. Other members include the director for Institutional Research to analyze the data, a consultant for evaluating the program and a reviewer.

The evaluation process involves collection and analysis of data addressing the following questions:

  • Is the quality initiative implemented as planned?
  • How many AA males are experiencing academic distress?
  • How many AA males are first generation college students?
  • Which interventions have the greatest impact on short and long term student academic success?
  • What number of AA males seek advisement, tutoring, or actively participate in co-curricular activities?

The assessment and evaluation of the data will be used to do the following:

  • evaluate the effectiveness of initiative strategies;
  • assess the success of chosen strategies;
  • identify initiative strategies that need adjustment or modification;
  • measure the success of the initiative in meeting the anticipated outcomes;
  • increase retention;
  • increase grade point average (GPA);
  • increase participation and leadership roles in student organizations;
  • determine the effectiveness of strategies to improve the participation; and
  • improve graduation rates of AA males.

Evaluations will be used to measure/improve the following:

  • effectiveness of the survey administered to the initial AA male cohorts;
  • participation in an organization;
  • level of social engagement of the AA male students;
  • academic success (GPA);
  • mastery of student learning outcomes;
  • involvement with the ROARING goals;
  • mentoring effectiveness;
  • service learning project;
  • impact of internships on academic success;
  • improvements in AA male students’ retention rates; and
  • improvements in AA male students’ graduation rates.

The summative evaluation will be evaluated on an annual basis to determine retention between semesters, academic proficiency (GPA), and continued participation and leadership roles in Student Leadership Outcomes.

Data collection and analysis of the quality initiative will be an ongoing process. Initially, the Fall 2014 African American Male Cohort will be evaluated until graduation. The study will continue beyond this initial evaluation period to track graduation of subsequent cohorts. The Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management, along with the Office of Institutional Research, will be responsible for meeting the needs of the QI Teams and making data available for those in positions to affect learning outcomes and overall success of AA male students.

The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) will be used to analyze data in response to research questions and evaluate the student survey. Dependent variables will include academic achievement (retention rates, GPA, interventions, semesters to graduation), and independent variables will include student participation in co-curricular activities (clubs, organizations, internships, advising, mentoring, Honors College), and students’ participation in curricula initiatives.

Data analysis will proceed in three stages: First, descriptive statistics will be used to calculate the mean and standard deviations for all variables included in the analyses. Second, OLS regression will be used to measure simultaneous relationships between academic achievement, satisfaction with college, and persistence. Third, a hierarchical regression test will be used to determine any statistically significant linkages between student participation in co-curricular variables and college satisfaction to academic persistence.

The Chancellor for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff fully supports the UAPB Higher Learning Commission Steering Committee. The administration has set goals for the quality initiative, as noted in the Strategic Plan and the University’s vision statement, to increase persistence rates and graduation. The Quality Initiative, African-American Male Student Persistence Initiative: Leadership Development is endorsed by UAPB’s Higher Learning/North Central Association Steering Committee. The charge of the Chancellor and steering committee clearly promotes the initiative’s goal to increase retention and graduation especially for AA males. The quality initiative proposal has been approved by the Faculty Staff Senate.

As analytical results are obtained from outcomes of the quality initiative, academic units will make necessary adjustments in advising AA male students. The Dean of Student Leadership and Involvement will conduct The L. A. Torrence Institute for Educational Student Leadership Training (LATIESL) during the fall 2014 semester. LATIESL is designed to train Student Officers and Student Government Leaders for campus and community service. These student leaders will be actively engaged in the initiative as mentors.

Data-based adjustments will be made to the initiative’s activities based on evidence of progress of AA male students, and ultimately that of all students, as results from the treatment (engagement in co-curricular activities) impacts the project’s outcomes (persistence, graduation, and post-baccalaureate placements). If data indicate that one treatment has more of an impact on the outcomes over one or more of the treatments, then that treatment will receive the greater use. All plans and modifications of plans will be data-driven.

Each unit will have shared governance in planning, preparing, and implementing the initiative’s activities. There will be an alignment of goals and objectives from the units that will support the institution’s strategic priorities and align the strategic planning to the budgetary process to ensure clear implementation of the quality initiative. Each unit (schools and departments—both academic and student support areas) will make the AA male initiative a part of its student learning outcomes, and include data and data analyses of the initiative’s impact on the unit in its annual assessment report.

Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) is “student-focused, success-driven and mission-based.” This statement captures the commitment of the campus to the success of the Quality Initiative: African-American Male Student Persistence Initiative: Leadership Development

Commitment of senior leadership. Members of the Quality Initiative Steering Committee have met with campus leadership (Chancellor, executive cabinet, deans and directors) to discuss the initiative and secure support. The Chancellor and his executive cabinet support and embrace the quality initiative (QI) proposal and its focus on increasing the success rate (retention, graduation and career/post-graduate placement) of first-time entering African-American male freshman students as a result of their involvement in co-curricular activities. Executive management’s commitment to this project provides the motivating force and resources necessary to, not only impact significant improvement in the success of cohort groups of African American male students, but also improve the success rate of the entire student body.

Commitment and involvement of key people and groups. In addition to the commitment of campus leaders, there is a lineage of campus planners who will participate in this initiative. Equally important is the participation of external stakeholders, that is, the professional mentors who will provide career-focused activities for the AA males. To inform and elicit feedback, the QI was presented to the campus at-large: Faculty/Staff Assembly, Fall 2013 and Spring 2014, the Fall 2014 Faculty/Staff Seminar, and UAPB’s 29-member Higher Learning Commission (HLC) Steering Committee, March 2014. The latter, which includes at least one representative from every division of the campus community, voted unanimously for the University to proceed with the Black Male Quality Initiative Proposal. Also committed to this QI are the Academic Deans and Director’s Council, the Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University College, Basic Academic Services, Admissions, Academic Advisors, Student Leadership and Involvement, Assessment, Enrollment Management, Finance and Administration, Student Affairs, Career Services and Institutional Research. These areas will provide leadership and guidance throughout all phases of the project.

Sufficiency of Resources and Alignment with Implementation. The quality initiative process has allowed shared governance and a thorough review of the budget process and timing between planning and resource allocation. The Chancellor is committed to ensuring that human, physical, technological and financial resources are made available to achieve the goals and objectives of the QI project. The five-year projected annual commitment to accomplish the strategies set forth in this initiative is $100,000. In April 2014, UAPB hired a new Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management who serves as a team member for the QI proposal/project. The Quality Initiative project director will receive 25% release time with the offices of Assessment, Enrollment Management and Institutional Research providing support through collection, maintenance and analysis of data.

Defined plan for integrating the initiative into the ongoing work of the institution and sustaining the results. The plan for increasing student retention and success is incorporated in the systems and continuing work of the University. This project will enhance and strengthen systems currently in place. The integrating of this initiative will be implemented through the collaborative work of the divisions of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and Finance and Administration with oversight provided by the UAPB-HLC Steering Committee and its sub-committee, the Quality Initiative Team. The results (outcomes) of the initiative will be sustained through a structured database designed to facilitate discussion, track progress, and document best practices.

There is an alignment of goals and objectives from the units that support the institution’s strategic priorities and align the strategic planning to the Quality Initiative Project. The Lineage to Integrated Planning within the University is as follows:

  1. Institutional Planning – the chancellor and executive council oversee the formation of the strategic plan based on input from divisional leaders.
  2. Executive Cabinet– chancellor, vice chancellors, and other members of the executive council summarize divisional plans and approve improvement objectives that will contribute to the advancement of the division.
  3. Division Performance Management – divisional leaders (deans) engage in strategic planning’s visioning, goal-setting, defining resource needs, and overall direction and goals for the division to include co-curricular and curricular activities based on this initiative.
  4. Unit Performance Management – (chairs, directors, faculty and coordinators) provide a key theme (i.e., Quality Initiative Project) while each unit provides a formal unit performance plan, identifying short-term and long-term improvements aligned with strategic goals of initiative. All set goals, student learning outcomes (SLO), and recommended improvements based on SLO are discussed in a campus-wide assessment follow-up meeting. Approval is via the New Course/Proposal Form.

Clear understanding of and capacity to address potential obstacles. The primary purpose of this initiative is to use the best research-based practices for retaining and graduating African-American male students. The Quality Initiative Committee understands that in order to meet the specific needs of AA male students, planned strategies must be assessed by the specific criteria. Potential obstacles will be addressed by the UAPB-HLC Steering Committee, and if necessary, the Academic Affairs and Educational Policy Committee (AAEP) and/or the Faculty/Staff Senate and Chancellor. The AAEP governs and approves academic policies of the University.

Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative

The initiative’s assessment team will gather, analyze and disseminate findings based on the timeline of activities. The assessment team will establish a data collection timeline for each of the assessments delineated for each year. Data collection and analyses will follow this timeline. The results from this process will identify accomplishments. Additionally, the assessment team will use the University’s academic assessment system of entry, mid-level, graduation and follow-up assessment criteria. Data from the unit-based assessments will determine the increases in persistence (retention), graduation, and post-baccalaureate placements (follow-up) for the University.

The timeline for quality initiative is outlined as follows:

2013-2014 Implementation

  1. Begin planning and development.
  2. Develop program strategy and evaluation.
  3. Conduct senior administration discussion and committee meetings.
  4. Seek faculty senate approval and commitment.
  5. Form the subcommittee for Quality Initiative research and planning.
  6. Write and submit the Quality Initiative.

Year 1. 2014-2015

  1. Select African American males from fall freshmen for Cohort Group.
  2. Collect and analyze baseline data of Cohort.
  3. Identify and select club/organizations with open enrollment for freshmen.
  4. Conduct a workshop for Teacher Training on preparing academic and co-curricular Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs).
  5. Establish SLOs and associated assessment tools for the selected clubs/organizations.
  6. Assess SLOs and administer surveys to AA males in the Cohort.
  7. Identify student and professional mentors for Cohort.
  8. Collect and analyze GPA, academic progress, and co-curricular roles and participation for Cohort (freshmen year).
  9. Analyze data and revise plan.

Year 2. 2015-2016

  1. Assign mentors to Cohort participants.
  2. Expand list of clubs/organizations open to target population.
  3. Conduct additional workshops on preparing and assessing SLOs.
  4. Survey Cohort participants.
  5. Collect and analyze GPA, academic progress, co-curricular leadership roles and participation.

Year 3. 2016-2017

  1. Begin planning for fall 2016 Cohort (all male freshmen).
  2. Expand list of clubs/organizations open to target population.
  3. Conduct additional workshops on preparing and assessing SLOs.
  4. Survey Cohort participants.
  5. Collect and analyze GPA, academic progress and leadership roles and participants of Cohort.

Year 4. 2017-2018

  1. Collect baseline data for Cohort (all male freshmen enrolled for fall 2016).
  2. Identify and assign student and professional mentors for Cohort.
  3. Collect and analyze GPA, academic progress and leadership roles and participation of Cohort.
  4. Begin planning for Cohort (all male and female freshmen enrolling in fall 2017).

Year 5. 2018-2019

  1. Collect baseline data for Cohort (all freshmen enrolled for fall 2016).
  2. Identify and assign student and professional mentors for Cohort.
  3. Collect and analyze GPA, academic progress and leadership roles and participation of Cohort.

Repeat cycles of Year 1 to Year 5 for each new cohort.


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Institution Contact

Mary Brentley, Chair of Quality Initiative Project/Director for Basic Academic Services

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NOTE: The papers included in this collection offer the viewpoints of their authors. HLC highly recommends them for study and for the advice they contain, but none represent official HLC directions, rules or policies.

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